Band of Brothers – A Soldier Honors the Legacy of His Best Friend

November 11, 2014
Staff Sgt. Erik Tofte honored his best friend by carrying a Donate Life Flag with him on tours of the Middle East and Africa.

Staff Sgt. Erik Tofte honored his best friend by carrying a Donate Life Flag with him on tours of the Middle East, Africa and Thailand.

This article was originally published in the Q1 issue of Gift of Hope’s Connections Newsletter

Cameron Chana and Staff Sgt. Erik Tofte first met in 2006 when they pledged for the Sigma Pi fraternity at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Ill. Chana, of Clarendon Hills, Ill., was entering his sophomore year and eager to continue his college pursuits while serving as a member of Sigma Pi. Tofte, of Roscoe, Ill., also a sophomore but three years older than Chana, had a year of community college under his belt after coming off active duty as a member of the U.S. Army’s famed 1st Cavalry Division. They were accepted into the fraternity, and for the next three years they were college roommates and worked closely together in their various roles within the Sigma Pi fraternity house. They became brothers.

Cameron Chana

Cameron Chana

“Cameron was easily the most memorable person I met during my time at Eastern,” Tofte recalled. “He was one-of-a-kind, and there aren’t enough positive words in any language to describe just how remarkable of a person he was. I have been half-way around the world with my Army travels and have met all kinds of people from all walks of life, and it’s no exaggeration to say Cameron was easily among the best of them. He was warm, kind, funny, loving, smart and helpful.”

The trait that radiated from Chana most — the part everyone fell in love with — was his genuine caring attitude, Tofte added. “It didn’t matter if you had known him for years or just met him 10 minutes ago. He wanted to get to know you better. It was why so many people considered him their best friend and why there was, and there remains, such a strong reaction among his friends and fellow students to his loss.”

It was late May 2009, three weeks after Chana had graduated from EIU. He had decided to pursue an MBA at EIU, so he stayed there after graduation with plans to start graduate school in the fall. He and about 50 others, mostly EIU students, were returning to campus on a rented double-decker bus with an open-air top after a day of boating at Lake Shelbyville, a popular central Illinois recreational area. Chana, who stood about 6-foot-3, and another man were facing backward when the bus headed under the Interstate Highway 57 overpass on Illinois Highway 16 in Mattoon, just west of the EIU campus. Chana and the other man both were killed instantly when their heads struck the overpass.

Quick-thinking students gave both men CPR until first responders arrived. The students didn’t know both men were beyond saving at that point. But their actions proved to be lifesaving nonetheless.

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Erik, a Humvee and the Donate Life flag

That’s because Chana was a registered organ and tissue donor. Chana’s parents, Rob and Lori, didn’t know about their son’s decision to be a donor. That fact surfaced when they heard the devastating news that Cameron was brain-dead. Even in death, Cameron’s caring attitude emerged, Rob said. “Cameron had taken all appropriate steps to be an organ and tissue donor. He knew the decision to donate would be a difficult one for us, and he didn’t want us to have to make that decision if we were ever faced with it. That was Cameron.”

Surgeons recovered Chana’s heart, liver, lungs and two kidneys, and those gifts saved five people’s lives. And his tissue gifts have resulted in more than 50 transplants to date. Cameron’s impact on other people’s lives through his decision to be an organ and tissue donor is his legacy, Tofte said. “It was only a matter of time until he made a mark on the world. We all expected that to happen in life. In his case, he has made his mark in death.”

Tofte has dedicated himself to ensuring that Chana’s mark leaves a very large footprint. Since 2009, he has been a member of the Texas Army National Guard and has been deployed to several locations, including Africa, the Mideast and Thailand. During those deployments, Tofte took several steps to make sure the areas he visited felt his best friend’s presence and learned about the importance of organ and tissue donation.

For example, he carried a Donate Life flag with him, and, taking a “roaming gnome” approach, he had photographs taken of himself holding the Donate Life flag throughout his travels. He also created Donate Life and C.L.C. (Chana’s initials) nameplates for his uniform and wore them over his regulation insignia when possible and appropriate and took more photographs of him wearing the nameplates. And he had pro-donation T-shirts made and wore one in many other photographs. He compiled many of these photographs into a photo book.

Erik with the Donate Life flag in Djibouti.

Erik with the Donate Life flag in Djibouti.

Knowing he would return to the states in November 2012, Tofte arranged to visit the Chana family to present them with three surprise gifts: the Donate Life flag he carried with him, the photo book and a T-shirt he wore at his various landing points. He also brought a certificate of authenticity from his base commander in Djibouti verifying that the Donate Life flag flew over Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, on August 6, 2012, “as a symbol and constant reminder of the importance of the Donate Life program and the impact donors have on our great nation.”

In December 2012, Tofte visited the Chanas at their Clarendon Hills home to present them with his gifts. “We had no idea he was doing it,” said Lori Chana. “It was an amazing tribute. We were really touched by it.”

Presenting those gifts was the least he could do to honor the legacy of a dear friend who made the lives of so many people better — in life and in death, Tofte said. “Cameron was the kind of person the world so desperately needs more of. It’s also what makes his participation in organ and tissue donation so fitting. It’s as beautiful as it is tragic.”

See more photos of Erik, Cameron and the Donate Life flag at GiftofHope.org.


2010 Campus Campaign Kicks Off

September 24, 2010

During the past four years, Donate Life Illinois has been fortunate to work with student groups at 26 colleges on a successful campaign to register members of their campus communities as organ and tissue donors.

As this year’s campaign manager, I’m excited to announce the launch of the 2010 Campus Campaign and invite YOU to participate with us! Once again, our Campus Campaign will call on Illinois college students to help us reach our goal of 2,000 new registrations.

For college students, this is a great initiative that focuses solely on public education and registering members of your campus to be organ donors.

This year, we’re encouraging students to organize registration drives at existing campus events (such as health fairs or blood drives), or create events of their own. We will be providing incentives (t-shirts, wristbands and other fun giveaways) as well as a variety of documents to help you get started.

For some more information or to get involved click here or contact me!

-Claire

DLI Campus Campaign Manager

U of I Student Nurses

A registration drive at Eastern Illinois University.

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2009 Campus Challenge Winners Announced!

November 19, 2009

Another Donate Life Illinois Campus Challenge is in the books!

Eastern Illinois University and Kankakee Community College both took top honors for this year’s Challenge with EIU winning the total registrations category (205) and KCC winning the category for highest percentage of student population registered.

In the end, student volunteers at 15 colleges throughout the state participated in the six-week 2009 Challenge. If you missed any of the action, you can hop over and take a glance back at our weekly Challenge updates. Thanks to all of our participating students’ effort and hard work, more than 1,100 Illinois residents were registered as lifesaving organ/tissue donors.

Congratulations to both EIU and KCC on their winning campaigns and HUGE, HUGE thanks to everyone that participated! Complete results are displayed in the graph below and you can keep tabs on our future work with college students on our campus campaign page.

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Donate Life Illinois Campus Challenge – Week 5 Update

November 11, 2009

campuschallenge09Thanks to student involvement on campuses across the state, we have registered more than 1,000 lifesaving organ/tissue donors in this year’s Challenge!

One week remains and Kankakee Community College still holds on to the top spot. Following very close behind is University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and Eastern Illinois University. We’re definitely in for a close race to the end!

This past week, The Journal Gazette in Mattoon published this excellent story and this great great editorial that discusses EIU’s involvement in the Challenge, mentioning a recent campus presentation from Joslyn Osten, senior public education coordinator with Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network.

Stayed tuned for final results next week and the announcement of the winning schools!

nov-10-rregistration

 

Total = 1,008 lifesaving registrations!

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Donate Life Illinois Campus Challenge – Week 4 Update

November 4, 2009

 

campuschallenge09It’s time for our weekly update on the 2009 Donate Life Illinois Campus Challenge!

One month into the Challenge and Kankakee Community College is still on top! This week, University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana follows in close second with Eastern Illinois University in third place.

Two student newspapers covered the Challenge this past week. Check out the articles from The Columbia Chronicle and the Chicago Flame.

This week, students will also be participating in the Organ Donation Online Update Day. On Friday, Nov. 6, participants will be tapping into their social networks on Facebook by changing their profile photo and posting a dedicated status update while tagging DLI’s fan page. All details and information can be found at the link above.

nov-03-registrations

Nov. 3 Registrations Total = 798

Last but not least, a quick photo submitted from the student nurses at UIUC!

-Scott

UIUC

UIUC Student Nurses prepare to register fellow students!

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Organ Donation Video – Waiting for a Second Chance

October 29, 2009

A few weeks ago, members of the DLI team headed down to Charleston, IL to visit Eastern Illinois University to film a video with student Carissa Coon, sister of Bill Coon.

We originally filmed this video to provide some shareable content for participants of our Campus Challenge to pass around to friends, family members and fellow students to help drive home the importance of registering to be an organ donor. While producing the video last week, we received word that Bill had received his lifesaving heart and kidney transplants. Bill’s cousin Natalie, reports that Bill is recovering great.

Take a moment to check out the video below and share with others!

-Scott

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ahEUATK1_O0

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Donate Life Illinois Campus Challenge – Week 2 Update

October 20, 2009

campuschallenge09The 2009 Donate Life Illinois Campus Challenge continues to steamroll ahead! Kankakee Community College has jumped into the lead with Eastern Illinois University currently in second place.

Some nice media stories are also continuing to help spread the word on the Challenge. Last week, the Champaign News-Gazette did a nice follow up story about UIUC’s involvement as did the Daily Illini. EIU’s Daily Eastern News also did a great editorial supporting the issue as did Loyola University’s Phoenix editorial board.

Currently, 354 students have registered as part of the Challenge. Keep your eyes peeled as we have some more exciting Challenge outreach initiatives coming up in the weeks ahead.

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Kankakee Community College students gear up for some registration action.

Kankakee Community College students gear up for some registration action.

-Scott

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