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Tree of Life Celebration honors organ donors

Published: April 28, 2014
Robert Garrison, MD, talks about organ donations during the Tree of Life Ceremony. View Larger Image
Chief Nursing Officer Patrice Jones, RN, MSN, displays the Gold Medal of Honor for Organ Donation during the Tree of Life Ceremony. View Larger Image
"The Tree of Life" in the Clinical Center is a memorial for organ donors from UF Health Jacksonville. Leaves have adult names etched on them, butterflies have children's names. View Larger Image

Born with health troubles her body couldn’t overcome, tiny Olivia Miller lived less than a month. But she left a priceless gift for another family.

Her mother, Shannon Miller, made the decision to allow Olivia to become an organ donor. Her heart saved a one-month-old baby in Tampa, who also would have died if it weren’t for the transplant.

Olivia was one of 22 UF Health Jacksonville patients who donated organs during the past year. Those donors’ gifts saved an incredible 68 individuals’ lives.

Each of their names will be added to the Tree of Life wall mural in UF Health Jacksonville’s Clinical Center. Leaves engraved with first names on the mural represent each adult who donated organs. Olivia’s name will be added to the butterflies, which represent child donors.

“Losing a child is the hardest thing any parent ever has to endure. In Olivia’s case, even though we could not help her, she is responsible for something none of us could do – giving life to another child,” said Robert Garrison, MD, associate professor of pediatrics at the UF College of Medicine – Jacksonville. “I hope her family has some comfort in their grief that they have done something to help another child.”

Olivia and her family were the honorees during the hospital’s Tree of Life Celebration, which recognizes organ donors during National Donate Life Month each April. Cynthia Gerdik, RN, the hospital’s director of critical care, said it was especially rare to have a family that was willing to donate an infant’s organs.

“Only between 1 and 3 percent of donors are infants,” she said. “To be able to give that one-month-old the gift of life is unmeasurable.”

Chief Nursing Officer Patrice Jones, RN, MSN, said she is “in awe” of the care the hospital’s staff, including physicians, consultants, bedside nurses and others, provides to families going through the difficulties of making such decisions as a loved one passes away.

“You go from trying to save a life, to trying to help the patient or the patient’s family through end-of-life decisions,” she said. “It takes a toll on you, but it is recognized and appreciated not only by folks in our community and the state, but also nationally.”

UF Health Jacksonville is one of only 22 hospitals in the United States to receive the Gold Medal of Honor for Organ Donation from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Health Resource and Services Administration. The award recognizes hospitals that meet national goals for donation, including a donation rate of 75 percent or more of eligible donors at their facilities.

“Working in the ICU can be a very sad place from time to time, but some of that bitterness can be repaired by giving the gift of life,” said Lisa Jones, MD, UF assistant professor of medicine and medical director of the medical intensive care unit.

“To save one life is to save the world,” she said.

More than 120,000 people are currently waiting for organ donations throughout the United States.

Robert Garrison, MD, talks about organ donations during the Tree of Life Ceremony.
Chief Nursing Officer Patrice Jones, RN, MSN, displays the Gold Medal of Honor for Organ Donation during the Tree of Life Ceremony.
"The Tree of Life" in the Clinical Center is a memorial for organ donors from UF Health Jacksonville. Leaves have adult names etched on them, butterflies have children's names.

For more information, please contact:
UF Health Media Relations
904-244-3268