Gift of Life Michigan celebrates 50 years of saving, improving lives

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (left) and Deputy Secretary of State Heaster Wheeler present Dorrie Dils, CEO of Gift of Life Michigan, a proclamation honoring the organization for its 50 years of life-saving work.

Technology, education, and outreach led to record-breaking growth

In a year that has already seen three record-breaking months, Gift of Life Michigan is approaching another milestone: honoring the wishes of 10,000 organ donors during the 50 years since its founding in 1971.

After record months in June, July and August, Gift of Life Michigan is on pace to honor the wishes of more than 400 organ donors in 2021, pushing it closer to the 10,000 donor milestone. Last year in Michigan, 374 organ donors provided 1,048 organs for transplant and 1,548 tissue donors provided countless gifts of healing and mobility.

“This is a tremendous achievement on its own, and it truly reflects the dedication of our passionate staff and the hard work of our hospital and transplant center partners,” said Dorrie Dils, CEO of Gift of Life Michigan.

“If I could gather all the donor families over these past 50 years, I would say thank you,” she added. “The incredible generosity of each donor can add so much time to the lives of people in need of these life-saving gifts – time for new memories, new adventures, and countless additional hours to spend with friends and family.”

Gift of Life Michigan started its 50th year having honored the wishes of more than 9,500 organ donors and 25,500 tissue donors – Gift of Life did not start recovering tissue until 1988. Because a single donor can save eight lives and a single tissue donor can help heal as many as 75 others, an immeasurable amount of additional time has been granted to tens of thousands of lives during the past 50 years.

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson honored the organization recently with a state proclamation recognizing its life-saving work.

“The significance of the work this organization has done every day over the last half-century cannot be overstated,” Benson said. “It cannot be quantified. Statistics about the size of the Michigan Organ Donor Registry or the number of people who benefited from transplants tell us a great story of the generosity of our people, but they don’t tell the whole story.  For even the numbers of every life that is altered, improved or saved does not touch on the hundreds of other lives impacted by that one, that ripple effect that this work creates.”

Lives impacted

Carol Pixley, 71, of Highland Township, knows that better than most. She counted 11,520 extra days with her husband, Jim, after a heart transplant saved his life more than 32 years ago.  Jim Pixley passed in April 2020, but Carol said she would be forever grateful for the additional years granted to her “Miracle Man.”

“He certainly enjoyed life to the fullest,” Carol said. “He was able to do all the things he wanted to do.  We got to see our children grow up, get married, have babies, and enjoy their babies. We enjoyed our life together. I’m thankful for the things he was able to accomplish.”

Rebecca Anderson, a retired teacher from Southgate, said the heart transplant that saved her in 2016 allowed her to celebrate her 30th anniversary with her husband, see her daughter get married, and travel the world.

“Donors give opportunities to some other people who wouldn’t otherwise have more adventures,” she said. “That’s the way I look at my donor: if it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t have had more adventures. I wouldn’t have seen my daughter graduate from Michigan State and get her master’s degree. I wouldn’t have seen her get married. I wouldn’t have seen my 30th anniversary with my husband. The list is just endless. It’s all because one person said yes to organ donation.”

For donor families, Gift of Life can help facilitate a legacy of kindness and generosity for loved ones that are taken too soon. Amanda Garza, of Muskegon, said she found great comfort in knowing her son, Nathanael, was able to save five lives when he died in a tragic accident in 2019 at the age of 20.

“I wanted something good to come from it,” she said. “I knew if I got Gift of Life involved, they would be able to help me save other peoples’ lives.”

Investing in the future

Dils said she was encouraged to see more people sign up on the Michigan Organ Donor Registry and an increase in organ and tissue donation. At the same time, she acknowledged that more needs to be done. There are currently about 106,000 people waiting for a life-saving organ in the U.S., including nearly 2,100 in Michigan.

Gift of Life has joined with other Organ Procurement Organizations (OPOs) across the country in a pledge to facilitate 50,000 transplants annually in the U.S. by 2026, in hopes of reaching a day when nobody dies while waiting for a life-saving transplant.

It is already trending that way. Organ and tissue donation is up across the country, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS). According to UNOS figures, the U.S. is on pace to top 40,000 transplants for the first time in 2021. Donation from deceased donors is up 15 percent from 2020, while transplants are up 11 percent nationwide. In Michigan, Gift of Life has seen a 12 percent increase in donors and a six percent increase in transplants from January to June 2021 over the same period in 2020.

“Gift of Life Michigan is investing heavily in that vision, and I believe it will not take another 50 years to get there,” Dils said. “We are investing in new technology to keep organs viable longer. We have streamlined the donation process from referral to transplant and expanded our team so that no opportunity for donation is ever missed. We are investing in digital marketing and education programs sharing our message of hope and healing to new and larger audiences to encourage more people to sign up as donors.

“We will work hard, every day, to push for One More: one more person registered, one more life saved, one more donor honored. It is my sincere hope that when Gift of Life Michigan honors its 100-year anniversary, it will also be to celebrate the achievement of our ultimate goal: that no one dies while waiting for a life-saving transplant. With our dedicated staff, hospital and transplant center partners, and the support of the community, I know we will get there.”


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