“Words are inadequate for the amount of gratitude I feel toward my donor and his family,” Copeland said. “They are the true heroes.”
Copeland was one of 12 organ and tissue transplant recipients who stood on stage Saturday at Nightingale Concert Hall at the University of Nevada, Reno to personally thank more than 20 families in the audience that lost a loved one who donated their organs and tissues. The families were being honored by the California Transplant Donor Network (CTDN), an Oakland, Calif.-based organization that facilitates donations of organs and tissues for transplant.
Cindy Siljestrom, CEO of CTDN, did her best to describe how their corporation and how transplant recipients perceive donor families.
“In times of desperation and hopelessness, transplant recipients depend on the graciousness of someone they don’t know,” she said during the ceremony. “Hero is not a strong enough word.”
Dr. Kenneth Moritsugu, former acting surgeon general of the United States, addressed the audience of families with acknowledgement of the confusion of emotion surrounding organ donation.
“It is a day for remembrance, celebration and for mixed feelings. We feel pride and joy mixed with sadness in missing (our loved ones’) presence,” Moritsugu said. “But one constant feeling is love.”
Moritsugu stressed the importance of raising awareness of the need for organ donors by saying the 114,000 people who are in need of a transplant would overflow Cowboys Stadium in Dallas. He lost his wife and daughter in separate auto accidents more than 15 years ago, and recalled the feelings he had when their salvageable organs and tissues were donated.
“My family found comfort and solace in that while they grieved others reaped the benefits of a longer life,” he said.
Reno native Paul Saucedo approached the podium to share his life-changing story of a liver transplant from a donor he never had the chance to meet. Saucedo said Saturday marked the 52nd anniversary of his operation.
“Words simply cannot suffice to show the appreciation that (recipients) feel, so the best way I can possibly say it is thank you very much,” he said.
Saucedo then introduced 12 men and women who had received transplants and allowed them to personally thank the families. One woman who grabbed the microphone was 24-year-old Lauren Martelle, a former Spanish Springs High School student who received a liver transplant after a blood clot threatened her life. She said the event was important to honor the families and raise awareness about donating organs.
“When I needed a transplant, my family and I knew nothing about organ donation,” Martelle said. She went on to graduate from UNR and now volunteers at Sierra Nevada Donate Life where she continues to spread the word about the importance of organ donation.
Copeland stood alongside Martelle to give her thanks to the families, though she has become very close with the family of her personal donor. They have followed her as she competes in athletic events, such as the United States Transplant Games and the Arizona Ironman race, and she feels living as healthy as possible is the best way to honor the family.
“I know that I can’t bring back their son, but my goal is to somehow bring comfort to them however I can,” she said.