Ohio Valley Medical Center Celebrates National Donate Life Month with Flag Raising Ceremony

“Life Is A Beautiful Ride”

Monday, April 8, 2019

April is National Donate Life Month and this year's theme is “Life is a Beautiful Ride”. The theme was inspired by the phrase and by bicycles.  Bicycles serve as a symbol of progress, renewal and the moving circle of life. Donate Life leaders say we each carry the potential to help make LIFE a beautiful ride for ourselves, and then for others by registering as an organ donor, considering living organ donation, being a caregiver and championing the Donate Life cause.  Nationally, 115,000 people are waiting for an organ transplant, including 2,500 in western Pennsylvania and West Virginia. At least 20 will die each day without receiving the transplant they so desperately need. Someone is added to the transplant waiting list every 10 minutes.

Ohio Valley Medical Center is pleased to join the Center for Organ Recovery & Education (CORE) to raise awareness about organ, tissue and cornea donation, and to inspire everyone to register to become an organ donor during Donate Life Month.  On Monday, April 8th, members of CORE, Donate Life, and staff from OVMC held a flag raising ceremony to honor those who gave the gift of life and to encourage people to register.  One of those who attended the ceremony was Gary Cunningham, a 60-year-old Glen Dale, WV resident, and the recipient of a double-lung organ donation.

“I was living with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF) and in need of two lungs,” explained Cunnigham.  “In February of 2013, I was put on the transplant list and then 14 days later I got the call that gave me a new lease on life.  As I stand here today I can say that I am walking and talking proof of what organ donation can do. It has touched my life and my family’s life more than you can ever imagine.”  

Cunningham said he was very active and healthy when he was diagnosed with IPF, a type of lung disease that results in scarring (fibrosis) of the lungs for an unknown reason. Over time, the scarring gets worse and it becomes hard to take in a deep breath and the lungs cannot take in enough oxygen. He said that after the diagnosis his world changed.  “Next thing I know it’s a world of this - hospital walls and doctors - for the next 26 months.  And, then someone that I will never know, ever meet - touched my life and is with me every day and I am forever grateful for that.”

Kayla Gray, Professional Service Liaison for CORE, praised the efforts of the OVMC hospital staff whose involvement with CORE has helped save or enhance many lives.

“The moving circle of life that we refer to is only possible with a dedicated healthcare team and a strong leadership team who create the culture of donation which is what you have done in this outstanding institution.  Last year with your support and commitment we were able to provide the gift of sight to nearly 14 cornea recipients and enhance the lives of nearly 375 others through tissue transplantation.”

Also attending today’s ceremony was Jody Miller of Wheeling, WV.  Her life experience of loss has led her down a path she never thought possible.  Miller is the mother of 21-year-old Heather Miller who was killed by a drunk driver in a car accident 11 years ago.  Heather, who was slated to graduate from West Virginia University that spring as a nurse, had registered as an organ donor and ultimately helped to save or enhance the lives of many organ donor recipients.

“Of course, I’d rather have one more day, one more second with my daughter, my very best friend but through her, I am able to help save lives.  I was terrified of public speaking and now look at me,” said Miller. “I am now a volunteer for CORE and I travel speaking at events to raise awareness for organ, tissue, and cornea donation.  I represent Heather and am able to tell her story every day. I think she would be proud of me.”

Approximately 11,000 people die annually who are considered medically suitable to donate organs, tissue, and corneas, yet only a fraction donate. Anyone can be a potential donor regardless of age, race or medical history.  To sign up, visit core.org/register.

Ohio Valley Medical Center located in Wheeling, WV, with 200 beds and more than 800 employees provides the area’s only comprehensive orthopedic center of excellence, behavioral, mental health services and board-certified emergency services on both sides of the Ohio River.

Pictured are Kayla Gray, Professional Service Liaison/CORE, Gary Cunningham, an organ recipient, Jody Miller, mother of an organ donor and CORE Volunteer, Terry-Jill Bonar, OVMC-EORH CORE Liasion, and Lisa Strother-Upsher, CORE Community Outreach Coordinator.