Loved ones of those who gave the gift of life in death gathered Saturday afternoon in Ashland’s Central Park to honor their memories with another gift of life.
Six trees, including flowering dogwoods, magnolias and a vibrant Japanese maple, were planted to commemorate the more than 30 organ, tissue and eye donors whose gifts originated from King’s Daughters Medical Center. The trees, purchased by the Gift of Life Awareness Group at KDMC and the Kentucky Organ Donor Affiliates and donated to the park through the city’s Plant a Tree program, were placed in a small grove between the old concession stand and the restrooms.
About thirty family members, medical workers and KODA officials gathered for the ceremony, which included a prayer of dedication given by chaplain Shane Cox, of KDMC.
“It was in the garden of Eden, Lord, that you planted both the tree of knowledge and of life. So may these trees today, be trees of life to all of the earth,” Cox said. “We pray, Lord, that the leaves will bring forth the life and breath that you give us, and we pray that their branches will be living space for those who climb among them or to the birds of the air that nest (in them). We pray that as we dedicate these trees, that every person that walks through this park ... that they will look upon it as the gift of life and renewing beauty.”
“This is just out in nature and it is so perfect,” said Sandy Hickey, family aftercare director for KODA and the mother of an organ donor, following the ceremony. “A tree is a living thing, and these families can watch that tree grow. It is a very fitting memorial. It’s important to families to remember our loved ones. We want to make sure they are not forgotten,” Hickey said.
It was an emotional day for many of the families, who all said they hoped the living memorial would help raise awareness about organ and tissue donation and transplantation.
“It shows people to give, that it helps other people that are still living,” said Romona Kosinski, through her tears. She lost her daughter, Stacie Belcher-Rice, last January and was surrounded by her family in the park.
“I think everybody ought to do this. It saves a life. It gives someone else a chance to live,” said Peggy Blankenship, whose husband, Bob, was an organ donor following his death in 1994. She said the decision helped her deal with his death. “I think it is easier, you know that you are helping others, and you can say a part of him is still alive,” she said.
“A lot of people don’t like the idea, but I just think giving someone else a chance, when you know there is no other chance for yours, giving someone else the chance to have a life, (is the right thing),” she said.
Her family, including Blankenship’s daughters, Jill Roberts, Tammy Kettel and her husband, Jim, agreed. Jim Kettel pointed out that seven individuals, including young teenagers, received gifts from his father-in-law, not just one.
Over the years, the family even established a close relationship with one of the recipients, a woman also named Jill who got Blankenship’s liver at age 19. Jill even named one of her children, Jane Ashland, in honor of the city where her gift of life came from.
“They always wanted to meet us. When they come into town we go out and meet them,” said Blankenship.
“Her family is so grateful. We actually were in her wedding when she got married in Louisville. We all went. They are very nice people, they are very grateful and have kept up with us,” said Roberts.
For more information about organ and tissue donation, visit kyorgandonor.org. To register as an organ donor, visit donatelifeky.org.
CARRIE STAMBAUGH can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2653.