A publication of Gift of Life Michigan • Summer 2022 • Volume 1 • Issue 3

Mom helps Oxford High School students remember friend and classmate who saved six lives

A teddy bear with a blue ribbon reading "Justin Shilling" and "Gift of Life Michigan" next to a gift bag with organ donation swagJustin Shilling’s legacy as an organ and tissue donor is helping his mother navigate the depths of her grief. She wanted something for his 1,900 classmates, too.

The Oxford High School senior was one of four students killed in a shooting at the school last fall. He was able to donate both kidneys, one lung, his liver, and his heart valves. Justin saved the lives of six people and helped countless others as a tissue donor.

Jill Soave is so moved by her son’s legacy - and acutely aware of the trauma and grief felt by his classmates - that she reached out to Gift of Life with a special ask: For every Oxford High School student to have a Gift of Life teddy bear.

Welcome back to Gift of LifeLINES!

I’m especially moved by this issue, which includes the story of Jill Soave, whose son, Justin Shilling, was one of four students killed in the horrific shooting last fall at Oxford High School.  

I spent time with Jill in July and heard her talk about the special relationship she had with Justin and about her decision to create a legacy for him through organ and tissue donation.  

You'll read how Jill worked to help ease the grief of his 1,900 classmates.   

Also in this issue: Todd Hart has a fascinating and key role in the work we do to save lives. Todd cares for and escorts organs from the donor’s moment of giving to the surgical team and patients waiting at the transplant center. Please make sure you read about him and his passion for his job. 

A sense of urgency persists surrounding the Michigan Organ Donor Registry, so we continue to ask for your help in promoting it. Our Check Your Heart campaign is underway statewide, with billboards, TV and radio spots, QR codes and our June Check Your Heart rally at the Capitol in Lansing. We hope you’ve had a chance to check your own license or state ID for the red heart and sign up if you haven’t already. And please ask those in your circles if they’re registered, too.  

Special note: You are all invited to our Check Your Heart Community Open House on the morning of Aug. 16 here in Ann Arbor. The details and RSVP information are available in this issue. 

It’s National Minority Donor Awareness Month, where organ procurement organizations nationwide shine a light on the need for more donors in multicultural communities. Minorities are more at risk for certain health conditions that can lead to organ failure. They also are less likely to add their names to the Organ Donor Registry. You’ll learn here about Patrick Price, who is determined to reclaim his health and mobility, despite challenges.  

Thank you again for reading and sharing this new publication with your friends, colleagues, and family. The feedback we received after the first two issues were appreciated and inspiring. And, as always, thank you for helping Gift of Life honor life through donation. 

I hope to see you at the open house. 

Stay well! 

Dorrie Dils
President and CEO
Gift of Life Michigan 

You’re invited: Gift of Life welcomes community and partners to Ann Arbor headquarters 

Lung transplant recipient Aarolyn McCullough staffs an information tablePlease join Gift of Life Michigan for a Check Your Heart Community Open House on Tuesday, Aug. 16 at our Ann Arbor headquarters. Doors will open at 9:30 a.m. for light refreshments, a brief program and tours as we celebrate the lifesaving and transforming work we all do to make organ and tissue donation happen in Michigan and beyond.  

 Schedule of Events:  

  • 9:30 a.m. – Doors open  
  • 10 a.m. – Welcome remarks by President and CEO Dorrie Dils 
  • 10:15 a.m. Donor dad John Edmund on why Check Your Heart is crucial
  • 10:30 -11:30 a.m. – Building tours  

We hope you can join us for an update on the statewide Check Your Heart campaign – the most ambitious marketing blitz in Gift of Life’s 50-year history. Please feel free to bring friends who want to learn about our mission and our impact in Michigan. 

 For complete event details and to RSVP:  Check Your Heart Community Open House

Michigan sample driver's license with red heart donor symbol emphasized, and Check Your Heart logo

Volunteer Spotlight: Recipient launches charity, raises money in honor of 20th anniversary of her lung transplant

Ronda Harrison never thought she’d live to see 50.   Born with cystic fibrosis (CF), the Spring Lake woman said she always knew her life had an early expiration date.   […]

Todd Hart in scrubs sitting in a survival flight helicopter

Staff Spotlight: Todd Hart is responsible for organs on their journey to transplant

Todd Hart saves lives by taking care of organs from the second they leave the donor until the moment they reach the recipient prepped for a lifesaving transplant. […]

Slide featuring Anne Kowalczyk, Gift of Life's long-time Chief Financial Officer

Gift of Life veteran leader receives national Lifetime Achievement award

After more than three decades in leadership at Gift of Life Michigan, the Association of Organ Procurement Organizations (AOPO) has recognized Anne Kowalczyk with its Lifetime Achievement award. Gift […]

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

Join donor families, transplant recipients, waiting patients, caregivers, medical professionals and other supporters of organ, eye and tissue donation for a fun day at the John Ball Zoo to celebrate life and to promote the Michigan Organ Donor Registry!

Saturday, August 13, 2022

10:30 a.m. - 1:30 p.m.

  • Free zoo admission and t-shirt to the first 250 guests
  • Face-painting and family activities
  • Ice cream treats, cotton candy, and popcorn for everyone
  • Community resource booths
  • Kent County Sheriff’s Office Mounted Unit “Park and Pet"
Three teen girls standing next to each other at an outdoor event with grass and trees behind them
A crowd gathers at the Gift of Life Foundation information table at the 2019 Donate Life Day at the Zoo
Donate Life Day at the Zoo flyer

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

Gift of Life’s largest outreach event returns to the popular John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids on […]

Gift of Life Foundation gives nearly $85,000 in community grants to partners statewide

The fundraising arm of Gift of Life Michigan has given grants to seven community partners and county medical examiners to help them promote donation and increase the number of tissue donors. 

The Gift of Life Foundation grants, totaling $84,464, were awarded for 2022-23. The Foundation has provided more than $1.3 million in community grants since 2009.  

This year’s awardees are: 

  • Donate Life Coalition of Michigan: $26,000 
  • Wolverines for Life: $20,000 
  • Jackson County Medical Examiner: $11,900
  • Eversight: $10,000 
  • Lenawee County Medical Examiner: $6,564 
  • Team Michigan: $5,000 
  • Beaumont, Royal Oak: $5,000 

    Foundation board member Angela Klinske said the funding pays for projects, events, and education about donation and transplant. It also helps buy the tools needed for county medical examiners so they can digitally send referrals for tissue donation to Gift of Life.  

    “These grants will help increase awareness, grow the Michigan Organ Donor Registry, and support eye and tissue donation,” Angela said. “It was an honor to be involved in the review and selection.” 

    The Donate Life Coalition of Michigan, a donation advocacy group and Gift of Life partner, received two grants totaling $26,000.  

    Of that, $20,000 will support the coalition’s Cover the Airways radio initiative – now in its eighth year – allowing the Coalition to reach listeners with PSAs that air on more than 20 Metro Detroit radio stations. The message: Join the Michigan Organ Donor Registry.  

    The Coalition also received $6,000 for the Comfort Blanket collaborative event with the Michigan Donor Family Council. This is a gathering of supporters at events across the state who create no-sew fleece blankets for the families of donors. With Foundation support, more than 760 comfort blankets have been created in two years.

    “These blankets are lovingly given to new donor families by Gift of Life,” said Cathy Warren, Health Ministry Program Director of the Donate Life Coalition of Michigan. “We are already planning for an even greater result in year three.”  

    Cathy said the Coalition is incredibly thankful for the Foundation’s support.  

    “The grants allow us to reach more Michiganders with the vital message that organ, tissue and eye donation saves and transforms life for so many,” she added. “It also helps us find new ways to increase the number of registered donors in this state.”  

    To give to the Gift of Life Foundation to support programs like these and many others, go to giftoflifemichigan.org/contribute 

    Patrick Price, a bearded Black man with glasses in a blue suit, stands in front of a birthday cake and smiles at the camera

    Saginaw man determined to regain health, mobility

    Minorities often wait longer for organ transplants. Patrick Price is hoping he will one day receive a new kidney and return to the catering business he loves, but he knows he faces challenges getting there.   Patrick was diagnosed with diabetes at age 13, and lost a leg due to complications more than a decade ago. A recent surgery on his other heel means Patrick doesn’t meet the health requirements to be placed on the waiting list – a situation he is determined to overcome.  
    Read Story
    Municipal clerk holding map of Michigan

    Make a Difference with Your Company through Organ Donation Awareness

    Gift of Life wants to partner with workplaces, community organizations, and municipal clerks to promote donation, break down myths and misconceptions and ask employees or constituents to “Check Your Heart” to make sure they’re registered as organ, eye and tissue donors and, if not, to sign up on the Michigan Organ Donor Registry.  
    Read Story
    Donor father John Edmond at the podium on the Capitol Steps with a Check Your Heart banner behind him

    Donation supporters rally for “Check Your Heart” at Michigan capitol

    Supporters of organ and tissue donation, including transplant recipients, legislators, volunteers and more joined Gift of Life Michigan in Lansing to celebrate new life, honor donors and their families, and to urge others to sign up on the Michigan Organ Donor Registry at a Check Your Heart rally on the capitol steps.
    Read Story
    Artelia Griggs and Donnie Parker wave as they finish the 5K walk

    LIFE Walk returns to historic Belle Isle for 25th year

    The annual LIFE Walk/Run drew nearly 2,500 people to Belle Isle in downtown Detroit for the event’s 25th anniversary honoring life, celebrating donor heroes and their families and promoting the Michigan Organ Donor registry.
    Read Story
    Transplant athlete signs Transplant Games of America flag

    Team Michigan heads to San Diego for the Donate Life Transplant Games

    Team Michigan is participating in more than 20 competitions and 60 special events through Wednesday, Aug. 3 at the Transplant Games of America in San Diego. Competitions range from pickleball to golf and tennis, basketball, track and field events, Zumba, poker, cornhole, bowling, badminton, and much more. There are also quilt-pinning ceremonies, a parade, workshops, and an expo designed to promote organ and tissue donation and celebrate recipients and donors.
    Read Story
    Myth: You must be registered to donate to be an organ and tissue donor.
    FACT: Anyone has the potential to donate organs, corneas or tissue, regardless of their age, medical history or whether they’ve signed up on the Michigan Organ Donor Registry.  

    But it’s important to do it: Registering means you have documented your decision by providing first-person authorization. Doing so takes the responsibility of deciding away from your family, which relieves one burden during a stressful time.  

    Gift of Life Michigan talks with families of all patients who are medically eligible to help others. If a patient is not registered, our clinical teams talk with their legal next of kin about authorizing donation. Parents or legal guardians of children younger than 18 decide in those cases. 

    So, you can donate without registering, but it’s important to sign up to eliminate ambiguity and the burden for families experiencing grief.  

    After you register, make sure you talk with your family about your decision. For more, visit the Gift of Life Frequently Asked Questions webpage.

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