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‘Why wouldn’t I do that for another person?”

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Flint McLaren nurse, kidney donor, honored as Donation Champion by Gift of Life Michigan

Tonia Cole is so supportive of organ and tissue donation, she has the scar to prove it. Tonia Cole, a nurse and kidney donor, was honored as a Donation Champion by Gift of Life Michigan CEO Dorrie Dils

A nurse in the Intensive Care Unit at McLaren Medical Center in Flint, Cole donated a kidney to one of her fellow ICU nurses about five years ago.

“He needed one and I had two,” she said. “I said: ‘I can do that.’ Why wouldn’t I do that for someone else?”

Cole was one of 13 individuals and three organizations honored recently by Gift of Life Michigan with a 2021 Donation Champion Award. The awards recognize people and organizations who make extraordinary efforts to help fulfill the wishes of donors and their families and promote the Michigan Organ Donor Registry.

Cole was recognized for her role on the Gift of Life Nursing Leadership Council, which works on ways to improve communication and collaboration to improve the donation process, creating a Plan Do Study Act for McLaren Flint to facilitate more timely referrals and better donation outcomes, and for all she does behind the scenes as a nurse in the ICU – as well as her personal connection.

She said it’s her way of helping grieving families and making sure others get a second chance at life.

“To me, the only good thing that can come out of tragedy is when you can give someone back their life,” she said. “When families make that decision, they at least have some form of peace, knowing that another family won’t have to go through what they went through.”

Other winners include:

  • Secretary of State Employee: Maríaelena Hernandez, Secretary of State Branch Office, SW Detroit
  • Volunteer: Scott Campbell, West Michigan
  • Community Partner: Key2Finesse, Metro Detroit
  • Multicultural Difference Maker: Brandon Corder, Beats X Beers, Flint
  • First Responder: Huron Valley Ambulance
  • Donation Storyteller: Ingrid Kelley, FOX 2 Detroit
  • Medical Examiner: Dr. Carl Schmidt, Medical Examiner, Wayne County
  • Certified Physician Assistant: Blair Cotton, Spectrum Health
  • Physician: Dr. Jeffrey Wilt, Ascension Michigan Borgess Hospital, Kalamazoo
  • Funeral Professional: Harry J. Will Funeral Homes, Metro Detroit
  • Transplant Center Professional: Dr. Damanpreet Bedi, Beaumont Royal Oak
  • Hospital Executive Leader: Lisa Friedman, St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor
  • Honoring Life Through Donation Award: John Edmond, Lansing
  • Donor Hospital of the Year: Spectrum Butterworth, Grand Rapids
  • Legacy Award: Cathy Warren, Donate Life Coalition

This is the third year Gift of Life has recognized Donation Champions throughout the state. Last year, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the awards were handed out individually and winners celebrated via social media and other digital channels.

“Gift of Life Michigan is so fortunate to have so many dedicated partners assist us with our mission of honoring life through donation,” said Dorrie Dils, CEO of Gift of Life Michigan. “Every year there are so many worthy nominees. These champions represent the best of the best, but it is a difficult decision every year.”

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