LifeLINES | Spring 2023

A publication by Gift of Life Michigan for supporters of organ, eye and tissue donation.

Spring 2023

A publication of Gift of Life Michigan

Organ donor saves high school athlete

Also inside: Placenta donation Gift of Life has record year Volunteer Spotlight


Welcome to LifeLINES, the inaugural magazine published by Gift of Life Michigan. We’re thrilled to expand the popular digital version of LifeLINES to a magazine format once a year as a report to the donation and transplant community and also as a way to reach new readers.

The organization’s premier publication about organ and tissue donation in Michigan seeks to inform, inspire and educate. We’ve done all of those things in the pages you’re about

to read. Our cover story about Tristan Johnson and his struggle with kidney failure as a star athlete will give you a glimpse of what it’s like to juggle life-threatening illness and your dreams. We’re proud to report about broken records for organ and tissue donation in Michigan last year and help folks new to donation understand why they aren’t too old, and they aren’t too sick. We’ll also tell you how some Michigan donors are aiding researchers on their quest to solve debilitating mysteries of the brain. We’re excited and hope you are, too. LifeLINES will publish digitally this summer and again in the fall before we bring you another magazine next April, during National Donate Life Month. If you would like to join our mailing list, please go to . I also encourage you to reach out with questions or story ideas to .

Be well,

Betsy Miner-Swartz, Editor and Senior Advisor

Table of contents

Get to know President & CEO Dorrie Dils


Workplace partnerships are crucial


Check Your Heart campaign




Michigan donors help with brain research 10

COVER STORY: Organ donor saves high school athlete 20

Donation facts


Placenta donation


Historic gift funds student education


Legislation in the works


Donation champion award winners


Organ and tissue records in 2022


Out in the community






LifeLINES editorial team

Patrick Wells-O’Brien VP of Communications and External Relations

Racha Kardahji Director of Marketing and Communications

Susan Rink Chief of Philanthropy and Foundation Programs

Kristine Wise Graphic Designer

Dorrie Dils President and CEO

Jennifer Tislerics Digital Communications Specialist

Yolanda Holmes Administrative Coordinator

LifeLINES | 2023 On the cover: ® Photo by Rod Sanford



Gift of Life Michigan | © Photo by Rod Sanford

‘People depend on us. Our work is a matter of life or death, so we cannot sit back.’ Get to know President & CEO Dorrie Dils

we exceeded the last record in 2019 by 14%. People are helping more people year after year. LifeLINES: What is the greatest challenge for Gift of Life? Dorrie: We’re breaking donation records, but the number of organs transplanted was slightly lower last year. We will always have some organs that, after recovery, we discover aren’t functioning well enough to be transplanted. But there are other reasons: The national allocation process is lengthy and cumbersome, and it sometimes results in an organ not being used. Our primary focus this year is resolving some issues to make sure more gifts from donors and their families are transplanted. Hopefully, we can partner with transplant centers and hospitals to make that happen. LifeLINES: The Michigan Organ Donor Registry is growing at its slowest pace in years. What’s happening? Dorrie: The biggest hurdle we have is when the potential donor isn’t registered. That’s when we sit down with the family, and, oftentimes, they don’t know what their loved one would want — and they say no. If the potential donor is registered, donation moves forward. So, we spend a lot of time on the Donor Registry — it’s really important.

Dorrie Dils leads more than 350 people at Gift of Life Michigan. Her experience in donation dates back more than 30 years when, as a young nurse and donation coordinator, she helped families navigate the donation process. For this publication, Dorrie talked about her work as a leader of the country’s 10th largest organ procurement organization, and the state of donation in Michigan today. LifeLINES: Can you talk about what’s working and what organ and tissue donation means to you? Dorrie Dils: I really feel like my career and life’s work has been in humble service. I do it because I want to work in an industry that has purpose. I try to instill that in others here, and I want them to have that same sense of urgency. When I first started in this field, a woman gave me a picture of her

3-year-old son, who was waiting for a liver transplant. She told me to put it on my bulletin board. She said, “Every day when you come to work, ask yourself what you’re doing for my son.” I did think about him every single day and I still have his photo. He got a transplant and he’s probably 30-something years old now. People depend on us. Our work is a matter of life or death, so we cannot sit back — because people are dying on the waiting list. LifeLINES: What is going well with donation right now? Dorrie: A record number of people in Michigan donated organs in 2022 for the ninth consecutive year. We’re asking more families and they’re saying yes. We also helped a record number of donors give tissue last year. We didn’t just break that record;

LifeLINES | 2023


LifeLINES: What does donation mean to families and what do you see as the future of the waiting list? Dorrie: I’ve met hundreds of donor families who — down the road — have a part of the story from their loved one’s death that most people never get. That becomes tremendously meaningful to them. So, when we face barriers to donation, I feel confident in pushing because if we chose not to talk to that family, we’ve made a decision for them that they might later regret. We shouldn’t be making those decisions — families should. I do see a day — and I hope it’s during my career — that people don’t die waiting for a transplant. The list will always be there, but I think at some point people won’t linger and die. That’s a travesty. There’s no reason someone should wait as long as some people do. Especially Brown or Black people, who wait particularly long. I’m very proud of the work we’re doing for families and for those patients, and at the end of the day we get to say, “Something I did today made a difference.”

Dorrie Dils leads the 10th largest organ procurement organization in the country. Last year, Gift of Life broke records for both organ and tissue donation, helping thousands of people.

Our problem is that the Secretary of State — where 95% of all registrations originate — has made some changes. We now can take care of our tabs and other business online, and we can do it less often. I’m happy about that as a resident — we all benefit. But it has minimized the number of times the question about joining the Donor Registry is asked. That has significantly impacted our work. LifeLINES: What is Gift of Life doing about it? Dorrie: We are pivoting to reach Michigan residents in other ways. We’re investing a lot of time and energy into workplace partnerships (see Page 5).

We’re working with companies and hospitals that are large employers. They’re sharing the Donor Registry link with employees by email. We’re also excited that the DNR provides a link to the Donor Registry after online purchases of hunting and fishing licenses. Legislation is in the works to add the registration question to Michigan income tax forms. We believe that, if passed, Michigan would be the first in the nation to offer the opportunity to register this way.

We get to say, ‘Something I did today made a difference.’


Gift of Life Michigan |

Workplace partnerships

expand our reach Remonia Chapman is committed to community, relationships and finding new ways to advance the Donor Registry

Relationships are fueling a significant partnership initiative with some of the state’s largest businesses and organizations. Remonia Chapman and her colleagues are asking them to share the donor registration link with employees along with the message that donation saves and transforms lives. Remonia, Gift of Life’s director of public education and community relations, explains how workplace partnerships work, why this initiative is so critical right now, and how your workplace can help save lives. LifeLINES: Most Michiganders add their name to the Donor Registry during Secretary of State office visits. How have changes there affected donor registrations? Remonia Chapman: The Secretary of State is a wonderful partner. They’ve recently made some changes that mean residents don’t need to go to the branch offices as often.

So, Gift of Life has to be creative and find other ways and other places to help Michigan residents sign up if they want to be donors. You go to the Secretary of State once a year, maybe now every 12 years. But you go to work daily or weekly. That’s an opportunity that we’re trying to maximize. LifeLINES: What is the Workplace Partnership program? Remonia: It provides another touch point for Michigan residents to receive important information. Work is where we spend much of our time, either in person or virtually. Workplaces are like our second home and where we discuss some life-changing topics. Through the workplace partnership program, employers can email hundreds or even thousands of employees to share the link to join the Michigan Organ Donor Registry. That’s important right now because the Donor Registry is growing very

Remonia Chapman has been a passionate advocate for organ and tissue donation for more than 25 years.

slowly because of those changes and other factors at the Secretary of State. We’re trying to find new ways to make it easy for residents to register to be a donor someday. LifeLINES: How do our corporate partners benefit from it? Remonia: I think it ties in with the type of mission they already have within their organization, to be good stewards to the people they serve. They also get an opportunity to promote the message of health to their employees. We give them an opportunity to do that. This message of organ and tissue donation ties into those health and wellness initiatives.

To get your company or organization involved go to .

LifeLINES | 2023


Check Your Heart campaign aims to bolster Organ Donor Registry Do you have a heart on your license or state ID?

platforms, whether it’s social media, TV or radio. Traditional marketing platforms and outreach, including a rally at the state Capitol building in Lansing, slated for June 20, also are included. The goal of Check Your Heart: Add 1 million new names to the Donor Registry. “This campaign is for Philip and so many other Philips in Michigan,” said Racha Kardahji, Gift of Life’s director of marketing and communications. She oversees the Check Your Heart campaign. “Patients are desperately waiting and they’re counting on residents to sign up. It’s the most selfless act one can make,” she said. “So please Check Your Heart.”

Philip Perry and about 2,400 other patients in Michigan are so sick that they’re

Gift of Life Michigan is in the midst of the Check Your Heart campaign, a statewide marketing effort to grow the Michigan Organ Donor Registry and offer more hope to Philip and others like him. It’s simple: Check for the heart on your driver’s license or state ID. If it’s there, you’re a registered organ, eye and tissue donor. If it’s not, take five minutes to sign up, either through the Gift of Life website, , or the Michigan Secretary of State website, . The integrated statewide campaign is focused on meeting Michiganders where they are: through digital

counting on donors and their families to save their lives.

Philip Perry

The 40-year-old Monroe man is among more than 100 people in the state who need a new heart and he knows the odds aren’t in his favor. “I’m trying not to think about the things that people in my situation seem to think about a lot,” he said. “When I find myself falling down, I just try to get back up and don’t go that far down again.”

Mustafa Sharafi, liver transplant recipient

Justin Shilling was one of four students killed in the 2021 Oxford High School shooting. He saved the lives of six people with organs and tissue (heart valves).


Gift of Life Michigan |

About 56% of adults in this state are registered to donate. Yet roughly 90% say they support organ and tissue donation. They just haven’t taken the next step. “We know the numbers are there,” said Dorrie Dils, president & CEO of Gift of Life. “And a significant number of people think they’re registered, but many are disappointed to discover that they’re not. That’s why Check Your Heart is so important. “I’ve said it before: There’s no reason in the United States of America for patients to wait in line for their lives to be saved.” Perry has been waiting for a heart for more than six months — about the national average for heart patients on the list. Wait times for other organs, including kidneys, livers and lungs, can stretch into years, depending on multiple factors. “It doesn’t have to be that way,” Perry said. “I don’t want anything bad to happen to anyone, but if something bad does happen to you and you can save someone, please do.”

Check Your Heart in two ways:

Register today.


LifeLINES | 2023 Kayleen Flanery, double-lung transplant recipient


Staff Spotlight

Michigan donors contribute to groundbreaking research

Nick Olden has one job and it’s pivotal: He finds ways for non- transplantable donated tissue and organs to help humanity through research. Gift of Life Michigan’s research coordinator and the clinical teams working alongside him are partnering with scientists to find cures and treatments for devastating diagnoses. “Healthy donated organs that just miss being transplanted by a hair are being used in really important research going on right here in our state and beyond,” Nick said. “I’m proud to handle that research for Gift of Life.”

Among the studies he and clinical teams contribute to: Deadly pancreatic cancer and other diseases of the pancreas, and debilitating brain disorders including Alzheimer’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder and autism spectrum disorder. “Every time we place an organ for research, there is a chance that we make a breakthrough or accomplish something never done before,” Nick said. “To be a part of that, and to help make that happen, is incredibly important.” Donation for research requires special and separate permission from families and many say yes without hesitation, said Nick, who has been leading the research aspect of organ and tissue donation in Michigan since 2020. Nick said the pancreas and brain disorders projects are two of five research initiatives Gift of Life is involved with. Knowing the possibilities for a breakthrough motivates him in the job he feels he’s perfectly suited for. Bruce Nicely, Gift of Life’s vice president of clinical operations, calls Nick a dynamo.

“He interfaces with brilliant people undertaking projects that will better the world,” Bruce said. “He needs to know how research projects fit our mission and

Bruce Nicely

capacity. He also has to understand the basic science of the work and how it all fits with donation, Gift of Life policies, and the broader scope of research mandates. Some of the research is organ- donation related, including one project aimed at finding ways for organs — especially hearts — to remain viable outside the human body for longer periods of time before transplantation. Nick said diseases of the pancreas are expected to be the leading cause of death by 2030. So, there is urgency and Gift of Life is a steward of the necessary research. Nick placed 36 pancreases from donors with Michigan Medicine researchers last year. That’s twice as many as in 2021. He also is involving Gift of Life in important work at Henry Ford Hospital, where

Pancreas donors are helping researchers at Michigan Medicine find cures for cancer.


Gift of Life Michigan |

© Photo by Rod Sanford

Research Coordinator Nick Olden is motivated by the possibility that Michigan donors might help cure debilitating illnesses.

How donors are helping Gift of Life and Michigan donors are providing organs, brain tissue and other tissues to provide specimens for critical research, including: • Looking at new ways for organs, especially hearts, to remain viable for longer periods of time outside the human body before transplant. • Finding cures and treatments for deadly pancreatic cancer, pancreatitis and other diseases of the pancreas to counter growing mortality rates. • The study of human brains to advance the treatment of psychological disorders including

researchers are looking into diseases of the bile duct and pancreas. Gift of Life’s No. 1 tissue research project is with the Lieber Institute for Brain Development. Since 2019, the Baltimore institute has collected brain samples to study neurological disorders. The institute does incredible work to support veteran and minority populations. Nick helped Gift of Life send 170 brains to the institute in 2022. Through the partnership, Lieber has published nearly two dozen scientific articles made possible by Michigan tissue donors and their generous families. “I’m a pursuer of the why and how something works the way it does. Organ research is all about the why and how,” Nick said. “I wake up proud every day about the work we’re doing at Gift of Life.” Nick makes sure research contributions meet industry regulatory standards for both

organ recovery surgery and documentation. He also leads the organization’s Research Review Workgroup, which looks at every project for efficacy. Brytany Bailey, director of preservation and placement at Gift of Life, said Nick is paramount to the research program’s success. “He’s passionate about it and that’s contagious,” she said. “Nick is also innovative and looks for new opportunities, vets every project, walks our research partners through the application process then trains our teams. “I’m so proud of the work we’re doing and of Nick’s leadership,” she said. Nick says he’s a one-person team surrounded by many. “Research projects result in long days and increase the workload of an already difficult job. Our staff has my deepest respect.”

PTSD, Alzheimer’s disease, autism spectrum disorder and more.

LifeLINES | 2023


The families of donors in Michigan are saying yes to research in Baltimore that could provide answers to crippling brain disorders. The brains from Michigan donors are compared with those of other donors who lived with cognitive disorders before their deaths.

Michigan donors help with important brain research Unique partnership has the potential to improve millions of lives

The families of donors in Michigan are saying yes to research that could lead to breakthroughs in crippling diseases of the brain. In fact, 170 families gave explicit permission in 2022 to donate the brains of their loved ones to the Lieber Institute for Brain

source for some of the most advanced research in the world,” said Lieber Institute’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Thomas Hyde. “Gift of Life is an invaluable partner.” Michigan donors like Lloyd Griffin of Detroit are providing typical specimens to compare with the brains of other donors who were affected by neurological disorders. Lloyd was 72 when he passed away in May. His brother, Thaddeus Shakoor, knew Lloyd would want to help others. Lloyd donated bone and skin to help patients heal — and his brain for research. “When I got the call and they explained what it was all about, I felt there was some kind of way Lloyd’s passing could mean something for someone else,” Thaddeus said.

“I talked with my wife about it. We thought he would want to help others.” In addition to having the world’s largest repository of PTSD brains (150) from military veterans, the institute works to serve all communities regardless of ethnicity, ancestry or social status. Researchers have published more than 22 scientific articles made possible by Michigan tissue donors like Lloyd, Dr. Hyde said. Bruce Nicely, Gift of Life’s vice president of clinical operations, said Medical Examiner Dr. Joyce deJong at Western Michigan University Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine in Kalamazoo connected Gift of Life with the institute. Bruce said he’s grateful because

Development in Baltimore. It’s the largest repository of

post-mortem brains dedicated to neuropsychiatric disorders in the world. Important work there is centered around finding treatments and cures for everything from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease to schizophrenia, suicide, PTSD and autism spectrum disorder. “Families across Michigan have very generously donated their loved ones’ brains and they are a major


Gift of Life Michigan |

Donation facts Don’t let misinformation affect your decision to sign up as a donor to help others

final act of charity and love. If in doubt, ask your spiritual or religious leader. False: I’m too old to be an organ or tissue donor. Fact: There is no age limit for organ donation. Many donors older than 50 — and some in their 80s — have saved lives. Last year, Gift of Life Michigan helped a 101-year-old woman become a tissue donor. Your medical condition at the time of death will determine whether your organs are healthy enough to help another person. False: I can’t have an open- casket viewing if I donate my tissue and/or organs. Fact: Donation need not interfere with funeral plans. The donor’s body is treated with the utmost respect. Gift of Life has relationships with funeral homes across Michigan. False: I can only sign up to donate when getting or renewing my driver’s license. Fact: You can sign up at any time through a Secretary of State branch office, its website at or the Gift of Life website, . It only takes five minutes to save a life, so Check Your Heart and add your name to the Michigan Organ Donor Registry today.

False: Doctors don’t work as hard to save the lives of registered organ donors.

Lieber Institute’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Thomas Hyde

Fact: If you are sick or injured, the first priority of your hospital care team is to save your life. Organ donation is only considered when all efforts to save a patient have been exhausted.

the research is in lockstep with the organization’s core purpose: To honor life through donation. “Life is precious, so with everything we do, we seek to honor it and make it better,” he said. “Brain research is a shining example of what is and what might be someday for people all over the world.” Families must give special permission, so Lieber teams talk with them about screening criteria, help them understand how the brain is removed at Gift of Life’s Donor Care Center in Ann Arbor, and let them know they can still plan an open casket viewing. Lieber Institute covers all costs and is happy to share autopsy results. “It’s hard to find words to describe how special these families are,” Bruce said. “Their grief is profound, yet they look beyond and say, ‘This is who our loved one was and what they would want.’” Breakthroughs are coming in treatment for cognitive impairment in Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia and traumatic brain injuries. “This partnership has the potential to affect millions of lives.”

False: I am too sick to be a donor.

Fact: Don’t rule yourself out. A patient with diabetes might not qualify to donate kidneys, but could have healthy lungs or a strong heart. Donors with HIV can donate to patients with HIV. Medical teams decide which organs and tissues are suitable for transplant. False: I can’t be a donor if I’ve had COVID-19. Fact: Patients who have been exposed to or contracted COVID-19 can still donate organs and tissue. Even lungs that were infected might still be suitable for transplant if the donor was asymptomatic at the time of donation. Again, don’t rule yourself out. False: My religion prohibits organ and tissue donation.

Fact: Most major religions support organ and tissue donation and consider it a

LifeLINES | 2023


Placenta donation offers super-healing powers

to patients in need Moms and babies are helping heal painful open wounds with generous gifts of “miracle tissue”

“Many other families only have the opportunity to donate organs and tissue when they’re grieving,” Dorrie said. “Placenta donation happens at a joyful time.” The program began with 14 placentas donated at Trinity Health Ann Arbor Hospital. Gift of Life has occasionally worked with physicians at other hospitals with special requests only. This year is expected to be a breakthrough year for the program, said Tissue Recovery Manager Shannon Renaud, who launched placenta donation at Gift of Life after working with a similar program in another state. The number of partnerships with Michigan hospitals is growing quickly, including the addition of UP Health System – Marquette in February. “We’re so excited. Trinity hospitals in Grand Rapids, Livonia and Pontiac would like to work with us,” Shannon said. “Trinity hospitals at Oakland and Livonia recently launched their donation programs, and we have several other hospital groups that are working to build programs as well.”

the moment he was born in Ann Arbor 3½ years ago. They were the first to give the tissue with super- healing powers as part of Gift of Life’s placenta donation program, which launched in 2019. “When my doctor presented the idea of placenta donation, we thought that would be a cool thing to do,” Alyssa said. “We’re excited to know Coleton was part of something bigger when he was born.” The placenta is tissue that connects a mother’s uterus to the umbilical cord. It delivers nutrients and oxygen to the fetus. Unless donated, placentas are typically discarded after the baby is born. The placenta technically belongs to the baby, making him or her the donor. Gift of Life’s President and CEO Dorrie Dils is proud to offer placenta donation to parents because it gives them a chance to talk about donation without the stress and trauma of loss.

Coleton Voss was born a hero. He’s now going on 4 years old.

Little Coleton Voss has no idea how many people he’s already helped in his young life. But with the gift of his nutrient-rich placenta, he has already made a difference for up to 20 patients.

The Fenton-area toddler and his mom, Alyssa, donated his placenta


Gift of Life Michigan |

Alyssa Voss and her son, Coleton, were the first to donate placenta to Gift of Life Michigan in 2019. He’s now going on 4 years old and has already helped up to 20 people heal with his placenta tissue.

This is Coleton nearly four years ago. Every newborn placenta donor receives this onesie.

The expansion will require two new staff positions to handle the potential of thousands of placenta donations in 2023. Her team has recovered 148 since the program was launched, with half of them coming in 2021. “Placenta is a miracle tissue for healing that helps patients with open wounds return to normal life,” she said. “So, to know more will be donated to help people suffering and in pain, is amazing to us.”

Shannon said placenta properties are so unique, medical experts are still in the early stages of understanding how it can be used. What is known: Placenta grafts help patients heal stubborn diabetic ulcers and traumatic gaping wounds that won’t close. It also is used in spinal, dental and eye procedures. That means Coleton was born a hero. The Gift of Life-issued onesie he wore in the days after he entered the world says so. All newborns who

are part of the donation program receive one. Coleton’s dad, Josh, is thrilled that Alyssa and Coleton made a difference for others. “We’ve always wanted to be a gracious family. If someone needs help, we want to be able to do that,” he said. “Coleton doesn’t grasp yet what he did but as time goes on, we will make sure he understands.”

LifeLINES | 2023


Proposed state bills would educate and register more donors Check Your Heart Act would add donation question to income tax form

their representatives to express their support as well. About 2,400 patients are waiting for transplants. LifeLINES: How do you feel about Gift of Life’s support from the Michigan legislature right now? Patrick: We’ve made tremendous strides in the past few years. We started communicating regularly and educating them about donation issues. We also host a Check Your Heart rally on the capitol lawn in Lansing every summer now and we’re inviting legislators to Gift of Life Michigan in Ann Arbor to meet our team and see the life-saving work for themselves. That’s made a big difference in increasing their awareness and interest in helping us educate and register Michigan residents. LifeLINES: What’s happening on the national level? Patrick: We’re educating our congressional delegation and federal regulators about the national issues that our industry has. As long as people die waiting for a life-saving organ, more needs to be done. That is why we have invested

Patrick Wells-O’Brien spends a lot of time generating innovative ideas about how to add thousands of names to the state’s Organ Donor Registry. It’s the number one goal for his 23-person division and he takes his leadership responsibility very seriously. Gift of Life Michigan has made significant inroads legislatively since Patrick joined the organization more than two years ago. The organization’s VP of communications and external relations talks here about what’s on the horizon legislatively, and why new bills will save lives. LifeLINES: Gift of Life is working with a lot of legislators right now to sponsor, write and introduce new donation-related bills. Why is that? Patrick Wells-O’Brien: We have a great partnership with the Michigan Secretary of State, but COVID resulted in two changes that have affected the Michigan Organ Donor Registry. They increased the

number of years required to renew your driver’s license in person from eight to 12 years. That means the donation question is asked in person fewer times. And, secondly, you can do more transactions online. We get half the number of yeses to the donation question when it’s not asked in person. The consequence is that the Donor Registry is growing at its slowest rate since 2008. We need legislation to help us do some very important things that will add names. Donation begins with the Donor Registry, so if it’s not robust, lives are at stake. LifeLINES: What legislation are you working on? Patrick: We need the availability to register in more places than just the Secretary of State. We have strong bipartisan support, so we feel good about the potential of these important bills. But we are encouraging the public to write to


Gift of Life Michigan |

Top three legislative efforts The first, and most important, is the Check Your Heart Act, which would add the organ donation question to the Michigan Income Tax form. The bill was introduced to the state House in March. If passed by June, the Donor Registry question would appear on the 2024 income tax form. We believe that, if passed, Michigan would be the first in the nation to offer the opportunity to register this way. The second most important legislation is a bill that would require education about organ and tissue donation in Michigan’s 1,800 high schools. Ohio, Indiana and Illinois have it and we think Michigan also should have it. We want those 16-year-olds who are asked the organ donor question when they go to get their license to have had education about what’s involved. It would be an hour in a health or science class. The third important piece of legislation is the Patient Access to Donor Registry information bill. It would encourage family doctors and urgent care centers to make information about organ and tissue donation available to their patients. There are all kinds of misconceptions out there that we think doctors can help with. For example, some people think they are too old to be a donor, and yet we had a tissue donor who was 101 years old.

© Photo by Melissa Dodoro

As VP of communications and external relations, Patrick Wells-O’Brien works with legislators in Michigan and in Washington, D.C., to increase the pool of donors willing to save and heal lives.

to expand donation, improve our systems, and educate the public. We agree that some organ procurement organizations (OPOs) are underperforming. In those cases, regulators should step in. However, new regulatory pressure that our industry is facing could put organizations like ours in jeopardy. Despite having nine consecutive years of record-breaking growth,

Gift of Life Michigan could be decertified or taken over by an outside group. We are working with our congressional delegation to inform them about our progress as well as the risks facing Michigan’s organ procurement organization. To stay up-to-date, visit for our latest and most pressing news.

LifeLINES | 2023




One organ and tissue donor can save up to eight lives and heal an average of 75 people with the potential of 125, restoring life, sight and mobility.

Gift of Life sets organ and tissue records in 2022

Donation success in Michigan mirrors the national trend in saving and healing lives

and tissue donors. The Workplace Partnership initiative helped reach more than 55,000 residents through their employers and other public access points. Organizations such as the DNR and Rocket Mortgage increased our reach last year. This program is seeing significant growth already in 2023. An expanding public education staff and key investment in its award-winning All of Us high school education program resulted in a record number of schools

Gift of Life Michigan helped a record 463 people become organ donors and 1,821 give the gift of tissue last year, saving hundreds of lives and healing tens of thousands more. The 2022 figures represent a significant 14% increase in tissue donors over the previous record in 2019 and an 8% increase in organ donors over 2021.

The records came as we hired more staff, spent more time on-site with potential donors and their families, and expanded our efforts to grow the Michigan Organ Donor Registry. Public education and outreach A critical first step was helping more residents register as organ


Gift of Life Michigan |









Organ donation in Michigan increased by 8%







1 million organs transplanted and Gift of Life is proud to have contributed to that accomplishment. Still, with more than 100,000 people waiting for a life-saving organ, including nearly 2,400 in Michigan, we know we must do more. President and CEO Dorrie Dils expects the number of donors and transplants to continue upward. “We will work hard, every day, to push for one more person registered, one more life saved, one more donor honored,” she said. “Our ultimate goal is that no one will linger or die on the waiting list. It should never happen.”

visited (203), presentations to students (471) and number of students reached (53,230). Marketing efforts We launched the Check Your Heart campaign, our largest marketing effort in history. It resulted in more than 21 million impressions. The three-year commitment exceeded all platform benchmarks for engagement and click-through rates in its inaugural year. The campaign helped add nearly 237,000 residents to the Michigan Organ Donor Registry in 2022. Clinical growth We hired more staff and that resulted in an 11% increase in on-site response to potential

organ donation referrals. We approached 22% more families than the previous year, allowing more Michiganders the opportunity to choose a legacy of organ donation for their loved ones. We also talked with 25% more families about the gift of tissue.

Nationwide trends Last year was big for organ

transplants nationwide: Living and deceased donors made 42,800 transplants possible, surpassing the record of 41,000 in 2021. More than 25,000 kidney transplants were performed for the first time. The country reached a milestone of

Join the Donor Registry at .

LifeLINES | 2023


Volunteer Spotlight

Liver recipient dreams big Volunteer wants to help transplant families with House of Hope for extended stays in Detroit

Right now, the House of Hope is in the fundraising and planning phase, but Aarolyn established a 501(c)(3) foundation in 2021. The house would be staffed with trained transplant-aware volunteers, would include a kitchen for meal prep and four to six rooms for families living more than 30 miles away. The question asked about groceries was 10 years ago, but Dee remembers it well. “She sent me to Meijer. She was just so kind and I was grateful,” said Dee, who ultimately spent four months in a small, temporary apartment inside Henry Ford back in 2012 and 2013. “I applaud what she’s doing. It’s needed. People need someplace to go.” Dee said the housing aspect is crucial, but the emotional support it would provide is also important. “Staying someplace where other residents are going through what you’re also going through would be so beneficial,” she said. “There would be someone to share a cup of coffee with and talk about your thoughts and fears. Just knowing that others are in the same boat would be great.” Aarolyn and Dee crossed paths about a year after Aarolyn’s liver

Aarolyn McCullough was inspired by one simple question: “Where can I buy groceries?” Aarolyn was volunteering to spend time with families at Henry Ford Transplant Institute when she met Dee Martin who was in Detroit 125 miles from her Midland home. Dee had already spent more than a week at Henry Ford with her husband, a patient waiting for a double lung transplant. “They were in an unfamiliar city — and she was alone. It always resonated with me,” Aarolyn said. Two years later, she visited the Mason Guest House, an extended-

stay residence for families of patients waiting for or recovering from organ transplants in Atlanta, Georgia. “I thought of Dee and how she would have been comforted if she was at a place like this surrounded by other people who were on the same path,” Aarolyn said. That’s when she hatched a plan for Aarolyn’s House of Hope, a Detroit residence that would be available for transplant families from out of town — people like Dee. It’s one of many things the Oak Park woman is doing for Michigan’s donation and transplant community as a passionate advocate and volunteer.

Volunteer Aarolyn McCullough shares information about donation with visitors at Gift of Life Michigan’s annual community open house.

© Photo by Heather Nash


Gift of Life Michigan |

© Photo by Rod Sanford

Liver recipient Aarolyn McCullough volunteers at Henry Ford Hospital and Gift of Life Michigan. She’s also working to open an extended-stay residence for families of donors and transplant patients in Detroit.

The out-of-towners are the ones who would stay at Aarolyn’s House of Hope. She’s met some who resorted to sleeping in their cars because temporary housing is expensive and scarce near the hospital. “They have to scramble sometimes,” Aarolyn said. “This is a way to pay it forward and to be able to give back

for this awesome gift I’ve received. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for that.”

transplant in 2011. Her visit to Mason Guest House in Atlanta was in 2013, and she’s been working since 2017 to make Aarolyn’s House of Hope a reality. At Gift of Life Michigan, Aarolyn is active in outreach events, sharing her story and encouraging residents — especially those in multicultural communities — to sign up on the Michigan Organ Donor Registry. Her photo is part of a mural celebrating transplant recipients at Gift of Life’s Ann Arbor headquarters. At Henry Ford, she volunteers with Transplant Living Community (TLC). She runs family meetings and talks with families and transplant patients.

For more information or to support Aarolyn’s House of Hope non-profit, visit the website at .

“This is a way to pay it forward and to be able to give back for this awesome gift I’ve received.”

LifeLINES | 2023


© Photo by Carrie Johnson


Gift of Life Michigan |

Grueling time on dialysis ends with ultimate gift Organ donor saves star high school athlete who then literally pays it forward to help donation programs A young donor saved two things most important to Tristan Johnson: His life and his ability to play lacrosse. Then the teen turned into a giver himself, helping pay for some of Gift of Life Michigan’s crucial work to grow the Michigan Organ Donor Registry. Both quality of life and lacrosse were in doubt when, as a freshman at Portage Northern High School, Tristan learned his kidneys were failing. Emergency dialysis at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital on Christmas Eve in 2018 was the start of some difficult and frightening months ahead. A diagnosis of the autoimmune disease lupus meant his kidneys were under attack and failing — and his life was tossed into turmoil. Tristan’s high hopes of playing lacrosse with his team that year were destroyed. “My whole world was flipped upside down and I was only 14,” he said. “I spent a lot of that time asking, ‘What’s next?’” What followed was a grueling four months for the Kalamazoo teen. Three days a week, he would wake up at 5 a.m. and head north to Grand Rapids for necessary dialysis to cleanse toxins from his blood before he could return to start his school day. “I spent so much of my time at the hospital. It gave me a new appreciation for life, and that’s when I understood why it’s called the gift of life,” Tristan said. “It’s truly a gift.”

LifeLINES | 2023


© Photo by Carrie Johnson

Tristan, now a freshman at Arcadia University in Pennsylvania, tells his new friends and teammates about his transplant journey and encourages them to sign up to be donors.

He was placed on the transplant waiting list after his diagnosis while he maintained the rigors of high school and continued the demanding treatments. That all changed in May 2019. After waiting three months for a transplant, a boy about Tristan’s age died in an accident. One of his final gifts was a kidney for Tristan. A successful transplant freed the athlete from dialysis and from worrying about what’s next. Months later, he received a letter from his donor’s family. Learning a little about the teen who saved Tristan was emotional. “If I could talk to my donor I would just say, ‘Thank you,’” he said. “I would make a promise to do what I can to spread the word about

donation. And I would let him know I am honoring his gift.” Of the nearly 2,400 patients waiting for organ transplants in Michigan today, about 2,000 are waiting — like Tristan did — for a kidney. That wait for many can take years, leaving patients tied to dialysis treatments that steal their days, their energy and their sense of hope. Some patients die waiting. “We’re so thrilled that Tristan’s time on the waiting list was relatively short,” said Dorrie Dils, president and CEO of Gift of Life Michigan. “Unfortunately, so many others linger on the list and life on dialysis is no way to live, as he knows all too well.” For Tristan, his freedom from dialysis meant a commitment to honoring

his donor and that hopefully meant doing what he loves most — playing lacrosse. But he wasn’t sure he was healthy enough to compete. With support from his family, friends and teammates — and approval from his doctors — Tristan practiced with the varsity squad in 2021, worked his way back into playing shape and was cleared to compete just three months later. “I don’t think it would have been possible if it wasn’t for my team,” he said. “It really helped that spring. I felt like I had the strength of all 30 guys on that team.” As a senior, he was wielding a stick on the field — but he wanted that season to hold more meaning. Tristan dedicated his senior season to Gift of Life and pledged to


Gift of Life Michigan |

Portage Northern High School graduate Tristan Johnson endured months of grueling dialysis before a young donor’s gift of a kidney gave him his life back. Tristan is honoring his gift and his donor by living life to the fullest.

that organ and tissue donation saves the lives of patients just like him.” Tristan is now a 19-year-old freshman at Arcadia University in Pennsylvania and he’s playing lacrosse for the Knights. The offensive midfielder shares his story with new friends and teammates hoping his experience will inspire them to register if they aren’t already. “Gift of Life has been such a big part of my life. What I went through made me understand just how important it is to be a registered

donor,” Tristan said, adding that he wants his donor to be proud. “I have pledged to honor my donor’s gift, take care of my kidney and live life to the fullest.” He says it takes just a few minutes so sign up: “It really can make a big difference.”

donate $5 to its foundation for every point scored or assist recorded. Tristan led the Portage Northern Huskies deep into the state playoffs. A whole lot of points were scored, and assists were plenty. The high schooler raised $2,640 to pay for important programs that promote the Michigan Organ Donor Registry. “Tristan is an inspiring young man with a great story,” said Susan Rink, Gift of Life’s chief of philanthropy and foundation programs. “We will use the money to share the message

To sign up on the Donor Registry, visit .

Watch Tristan’s story .

“If I could talk to my donor I would just say, ‘Thank you.’ I would make a promise to do what I can to spread the word about donation. And I would let him know I am honoring his gift.”

LifeLINES | 2023


Historic gift funds student education Bloomfield Hills couple pledges record $125,000 for popular All of Us program

Pamela and Krishna Sawhney fervently believe educating youth about organ and tissue donation will change the minds and hearts of generations of skeptics — and save the lives of patients waiting for transplants. The Bloomfield Hills couple has pledged $125,000 over five years to the All of Us program, Gift of Life Michigan’s unique hands-on learning experience for high schoolers. Their gift is — by far — the largest in the organization’s 51-year history. “We now have the ability to significantly grow All of Us and reach more students than ever,” said Alison Gillum, senior community relations coordinator at Gift of Life. “It ultimately will grow the Donor Registry and save lives.” All of Us is not your average class, so it’s getting a lot of buzz at high schools statewide. It’s a learning experience with real tissue and organ specimens that students can touch as they learn why donation is crucial to help patients in need. Students learn which organs and tissue can be transplanted and how the process works, beginning with a person’s decision to join the Michigan Organ Donor Registry. “I fell in love with the entire program,” said Pamela Sawhney, a member of Gift of Life’s governing board. “We both gravitated to

Pamela and Krishna Sawhney enjoy giving to overlooked organizations and hope they’ve inspired others to support Gift of Life financially.


Gift of Life Michigan |

© Photos by Rod Sanford

Milwaukee brand tool trunks hold hands-on materials for the All of Us high school education program. Because of their gift, the trunks have been labeled Pam’s.

The Sawhneys enjoy giving to overlooked organizations and hope they’ve inspired others to consider supporting Gift of Life financially. “I just have so much respect for everything that goes on at Gift of Life. I’m touched by this entire program and the lives saved,” Pamela Sawhney said. Red Milwaukee-brand tool trunks hold a vast collection of All of Us teaching materials. They’ve now been labeled “Pam’s All of Us Student Education Program Traveling

Krishna Sawhney said students are learning from All of Us , then talking to their parents. “If you want to inspire change, teach the children, who will then teach their parents,” he said.

All of Us and hope it now will go on forever.” The program, which won a national award from Donate Life America in 2021, has surged in popularity and seen tremendous growth: It began in 2018 with two presenters visiting 68 classrooms in 25 high schools. In 2022, five outreach educators were in 471 classrooms at 203 schools. Susan Rink, Gift of Life’s chief of philanthropy and foundation programs, said giving to Gift of Life has never been more important. “We know this major gift will lead to new donor registrations. We simply cannot thank the Sawhneys enough.”

To make your financial gift in support of Gift of Life’s mission, go to .

Or write a check to: Gift of Life Michigan 3861 Research Park Dr. Ann Arbor, MI 48108

Trunk” in honor of the Sawhneys’ generosity.

“If you want to inspire change, teach the children, who will then teach their parents.”

LifeLINES | 2023


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