Donate Life Night at the Zoo celebrates organ donors, transplant recipients and renewed life

Guests enjoyed free Dippin' Dots ice cream at Donate Life Night at the Zoo

Gift of Life’s largest West Michigan outreach event returned this week to the popular Zoológico de John Ball in Grand Rapids with a new twist. This year, more than one thousand Donate Life Night at the Zoo guests were treated to an exclusive after-hours event inside the zoo on August 16.

Families exploring the Celebration of Life Trail at the John Ball ZooThe event’s top highlight was the Celebration of Life Trail, which honored organ, eye and tissue donors and transplant recipients. Much of the walkway between the entrance and exhibits was lined with these beautiful tributes – each included a photo of the honoree, an explanation of their connection to donation or transplant and a short sentence about the person. Many families took photos of themselves with their loved ones’ posters.

Other popular features of the event were the many community resource booths, face painting, ice cream and, of course, the zoo’s star animals! Eric Zane, host of the popular Eric Zane podcast, emceed the event, and local mom Jamie C. shared a very powerful story about her young daughter’s lifesaving heart valve transplant and how that has affected their family. Olivia was born with aortic stenosis and received the gift of a donor valve when she was four months old. Today, Olivia is a thriving, active toddler and her parents are incredibly grateful to the family who donated their child’s heart valves during their time of loss.

Kids of all ages got their faces painted at Donate Life Night at the Zoo“Organ donation means life: for my daughter, for me and for my family,” Jamie shared. Doctors anticipate Olivia may need additional heart valve transplants as she grows up, which inspires Jamie to continue encouraging people to consider signing up on the Michigan Organ Donor Registry.

“We’re grateful to all of our supporters in West Michigan for showing up in such a big way,” said Dorrie Dils, president & CEO of Gift of Life Michigan. “Together, we honored donors and encouraged everyone who has not yet signed up on the Michigan Organ Donor Registry to Check Your Heart to save more people like young Olivia.”

Gift of Life Michigan launched the Check Your Heart campaign last year, seeking to add more than one million Michigan residents to the registry. More than 106,000 patients (about the seating capacity of Michigan Stadium) are waiting for a lifesaving transplant in the U.S. About 2,400 are waiting in this state.

Donate Life Day at the Zoo was sponsored by Trinity Health Michigan and Corewell Health.

“I am overwhelmed with the response to this inspiring event,” said Alison Gillum, Gift of Life’s senior community relations coordinator in Grand Rapids. “It was a great evening celebrating life and life renewed and honoring all those who have provided the gifts of life, sight and mobility.”

Eric Zane invites guests to Check Your Heart by holding up his driver's license with the red heart symbol on it.

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