FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) - More than 120 people walked through the city's southwest side Saturday morning, to raise awareness about the need for more registered organ donors. The walk was the first in the area for the Indiana Organ Procurement Organization (IOPO).
IOPO is a federally-designated organ procurement organization serving Indiana, and is a certified tissue and eye recovery agency. IOPO serves as the vital link between people waiting for a lifesaving transplant and potential donors by coordinating organ and tissue donation with Indiana hospitals, donor families, transplant teams, and recipients' hospital.
According to IOPO statistics, there are 118 patients in Allen County waiting for organ transplants, and nearly 200 patients in all of northeastern Indiana.
Walkers, who had to walk the five kilometers in the rain, wore an orange t-shirt that read, "I am hope."
"I'm a registered donor, and I have been since high school," Sam Davis told NewsChannel 15. Davis is the director of professional services at IOPO. "I want to be hope for somebody. At some time, my life is going to end. If there's any medical possibility that the gifts I have, in my organs and tissues, can be given to somebody else and save their lives, I say why not."
Leading the way for the new event was Rhonda Berger. Berger's daughter, Jennifer Spurgeon was killed in January of 2009 during a fire at the Willows of Coventry, along with two other women. Berger walked in her daughter's memory.
Spurgeon was an organ donor. Her liver and two kidneys saved the lives of three people. "That has been very comforting to us," Berger said. "Even the day they pronounced her brain dead, it was such a tragedy and you're so heart broken. When they told us they had three potential recipients, it was like a big weight was lifted."
The recipients of Spurgeon's kidneys joined Berger in the walk.
Zachery Stanley received a kidney while in high school.
"I just want people to realize how much organ donation can change someone's life," Stanley, a native of LaGrange, said. "Before I had my transplant, I couldn't do anything. Now, after my transplant, it's like I'm a new kid. If people get out and donate, they can make someone's life that much better."
Stanley, who is now in college, said he's majoring in nursing because of his experience after the transplant. "I see how it changes lives," he said. "I think people need to know that and understand it better. Who better than somebody who has been through the whole process, and let them know it's a good thing."
The other kidney recipient was Betty Ritchie of Paducah, Ky.
Berger met the two recipients after the successful transplants, and since have become friends.
"I'm just like their family," Ritchie said. "They're as close as my own family. [Berger] comes to our family reunions, and she's been a part of my family ever since I met her."
Supporters from the City of Fort Wayne Animal Control's Whisker Wagon were also at the walk with three adoptable dogs, in honor of Spurgeon, who was a vet tech student in college.
Since her daughter's death, Berger has become an advocate for IOPO and organ procurement. Berger gives talks at schools, and spreads the word through community events like Saturday's event.
"We're seeing the results of her organ donation," Berger said. "Zach is a college student and is going to be a nurse. Betty loves to travel. You can see that recipients have issues before, and now they're healthy and can move on. That's what Jennifer always wanted to do, was to help people."
Anyone interested in registering to be an organ and tissue donor can click here, or visit your local BMV.
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