Record-Breaking 2013: Thank You, Thank You, Thank You

February 5, 2014

Thank you.

Thank you to our donor families. Thank you to our volunteers. Thank you to our partner hospitals. Thank you to everyone who helped make organ and tissue donation possible in 2013.

Last year, was a busy year for Gift of Hope. We worked with thousands of families across Illinois and northwest Indiana to coordinate their loved ones’ donations. These families are, without a doubt, the embodiment of Gift of Hope and our mission.

In 2013, we were able to help save nearly 1,000 lives through organ donation and impact countless lives through donated tissue. These are both all-time highs for Gift of Hope.

But, none of this would be possible without the selfless gifts of more than 1,500 families that said “Yes” to organ and tissue. We cannot say “thank you” enough times to those who gracefully gave life to others in their moments of deep sadness.

Thank you infinitely.


A Journey of Hope: Part 1

December 27, 2013

Each year, Donate Life organizations from across the United States and throughout the world celebrate the “gift of life” through organ and tissue donation by creating a float to be featured in the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California. Gift of Hope is proud to be a part of this amazing event.

Over the next few days, we will feature the stories of Illinoisans and Hoosiers who are organ and tissue donation advocates and have been a part of making the 2014 Donate Life Float a reality.

Today, we would like to introduce Larry Lefferts. Larry is a donor father and an avid advocate for organ and tissue donation. He and his wife, Vivian, represented Gift of Hope at last year’s Tournament of Roses Parade. They enjoyed the experience so much that they are returning for the 2014 parade as members of the Donate Life Float Advisory Committee.

Without further ado, here is Larry’s story in his own words.

The Lefferts family at the 2013 Rose Parade.

The Lefferts family at the 2013 Rose Parade.

The English language is far too inadequate to describe the beautiful experience of being involved with the Donate Life Float! Words like “joy”, “pain”, “comfort”, “healing”, “support”, “compassion”, “love”, “sharing”, “caring”, “thankful”, “remarkable”, “overwhelming” do not seem adequate in conveying just what this experience was all about. We met new, very dear friends who make one feel like they have been our friends for a very long time.

There is Kevin Monroe, who donated a kidney to his brother and has worked on every Donate Life Float. He was in charge of a shift for building the float. After telling him Vivian was riding the float, he asked what state we were from.  When we said Illinois, he said he knew about us and then said something about our fireworks business and our son. His eyes swelled with tears as we talked about John and we all cried. What compassion he showed us!

Then there is the driving force behind the float, Bryan Stewart.  It was amazing to watch his skill at handling all of the things thrown at him. We also got to know Bryan’s assistant, Annie Kiefhaber, quite well. We were even able to help her with coordinating buses for the parade. 

And there was Heidi Schaiberger!  We were so very blessed to be able to meet her and share the experience with her. 

The joy and anticipation on the day of the Parade was palpable!  The Donate Life folks sat facing each other on both sides of Colorado Blvd which hosts much of the parade route.  It was a joy watching the other floats and bands go by as everyone cheered.  We could see a couple blocks up to “media corner” as floats turned towards us.  There was a clear view, stirring much excitement, when the Donate Life Journey of the Heart Float turned the corner.  To watch it approach us and see it so clearly was truly a life changing moment. I saw my lovely bride, Vivian, clutching my son’s photo and waving back at all of us! I was flooded and overwhelmed with emotion as I watched this beautiful creation sail by us and heard the Float’s theme song, Phil Collins’ “You’ll Be In My Heart.”  I was truly blessed to be there for this moment! It was joyous!

Larry and his daughter as they wait for the Donate Life Float.

Larry and his daughter as they wait for the Donate Life Float.

Vivian and I felt so very blessed!  Our lives were changed on that day. We pledged to return at some time in the future and volunteer in the hopes we could again experience the healing joy.  Imagine our excitement when Annie Kiefhaber called us and asked if we would like to be on her Donate Life Float Committee!  We were, and are, thrilled beyond belief at this opportunity. It is our hope to make the Donate Life Rose Parade Float Class of 2014 feel as blessed as we were made to feel by those who were there for us!

30 Stories in 30 Days: The Blessings of Donation

April 29, 2013

Caleb was able to give sight to others through is decision to be a donor.

Sheila and Terry Walters’ son, Caleb, was killed in a motorcycle accident shortly before his 21st birthday in 2008. The family was devastated, but they remembered that Caleb wanted to be an organ and tissue donor. Unfortunately, the coroner ordered an autopsy, so the time needed to conduct it would prevent organ donation from happening.

Sheila and Cyndy

Sheila and recipient Cyndy

“We knew Caleb wanted to be an organ donor, so we wanted to honor that wish,” Sheila said. “We wanted something good to come out of our loss.” The Walters left the hospital that day shattered and broken, first, by the loss of Caleb and, second, because they could not honor his wish to be an organ donor.

“It’s difficult to tell you how joyful it felt to receive a phone call from the Illinois Eye-Bank just hours later at home,” Sheila recalled. “Surrounded by friends and family on our deck on a beautiful and tragic day, our flag flying outside at half mast, tears of joy began filling our eyes at the hope that Caleb could be a cornea donor. We could do one last thing for our son and positively enhance the life of another. His life and legacy of helping others would continue; he would make a difference.”

The Illinois Eye-Bank has been a blessing to the family, Sheila said. “It helped us focus during our grief. It gave us a positive outlook on life and death. It helped us see that this is not just about us and our loss but about others and love.” Sheila and Terry are now volunteers for the Illinois Eye-Bank. They have shared their story, signed up new donors and “adopted” recipients who don’t know their donor families.

Sheila and Terry

The Walter Family finds comfort in Caleb’s gift of sight.

Sheila and her family feel God is helping to heal their broken hearts through Caleb’s cornea donation. “Being in touch with Caleb’s recipients has brought comfort,” Sheila said. “I feel so relieved to know that Caleb’s corneas are making a difference in their lives.” And through their work with the Eye-Bank, Sheila said they have witnessed “first hand the reason and purpose for organ and tissue donation on a human level.”

30 Stories in 30 Days: Our Miracle Child Saved Lives

April 22, 2013
Jonathan and Cindy Cook

Jonathan and Cindy Cook

When she was pregnant with her first baby, Cindy Cook was ecstatic, until an abnormality was detected.  “We learned that our son had a rare genetic disorder called Trisomy 13,” she said, “and the doctors said it was ‘incompatible with life.’”

Jonathan continued to surprise with each year of his life.

Jonathan continued to surprise with each year of his life.

Their son, Jonathan was born on April 3, 1996 and from the start he was a fighter.  When Jonathan was five he stopped breathing and lost too much oxygen to his brain to sustain breathing on his own.  “We were prepared to say goodbye,” Cindy explained.  “But in true Jonathan fashion, he had other plans and began breathing again.”

When Jonathan was seven, Cindy had twin boys, Jacob and Evan, and when he was 10 Nathan was born.  But only six months later, Jonathan stopped breathing again.  “This time, because of what he suffered when he was five, his brain could not withstand the trauma,” Cindy said.  The doctors detected no brain activity.  “But Jonathan was still surprising us,” Cindy recalled.  “We were told he could be an organ and tissue donor.”

The Cook Family

The Cook Family

Cindy shares how Jonathan was treated with such respect and tenderness.  “The Gift of Hope coordinator wanted to know everything about Jonathan and we were so proud to tell her about our miracle son,’” Cindy said.

Jonathan was able to be a tissue donor.  He donated his heart valves, bone and some skin.  “We recently learned that his heart valves were given to an eight-year-old girl and this brings us great joy,” Cindy shared.  “What an ironic twist!  This boy, whose condition was ‘incompatible with life,’ went on to save a life!”

Illini Stories: Laura DeBruler

August 24, 2012

All-American athlete Laura DeBruler received donor tissue which allows her to continue playing the game that she loves.
Photo courtesy of the Daily Illini

Laura DeBruler is a decorated athlete and currently the volunteer assistant volleyball coach at the University of Illinois. In 2009, DeBruler was named a First-Team All-American volleyball player in her junior year.  Unfortunately, her career was cut short midway through her senior season when she tore her ACL in a match against the University of Michigan.  Laura continued to have knee issues even after the ACL was repaired. It was then that doctors told DeBruler that she needed donor tissue to reconstruct her knee. “As a result of my injury, I needed donor tissue to fill a nickle-sized hole in my cartilage. Now, because someone said ‘Yes’ to organ and tissue donation, I hope to get back on the court and enjoy the game that I love.”

Help Gift of Hope and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign set the Guinness World Record for most organ donor registrations in a day. You can stop by the Gift of Hope booth on the Quad on August 26th or you can register online TODAY at

-Josh Muller, PR/Marketing Coordinator with Gift of Hope

Faith Leaders Unite for National Donor Sabbath

November 9, 2011

Donate Life Illinois urges faith leaders throughout Illinois to raise their collective voices, praise the benefits of organ and tissue donation and urge their members to give the gift of life by being organ and tissue donors during National Donor Sabbath, which will  be observed November 11-13.

Donation and transplantation professionals designate this special weekend each year—two weekends before the Thanksgiving season—to bring donation to the attention of faith leaders and their communities. During this time, Donate Life Illinois coalition members seek to educate faith communities about the ongoing need for organ, tissue and eye donors and to encourage people to register as donors.

Religious views on donation vary among denominations, but the vast majority—including all major religions such as Catholicism, Judaism, Islam and Hinduism—view organ and tissue donation as one of the highest forms of giving and a supreme gesture of human compassion. That’s because faith and hope—fundamental principles of nearly all religions—also are integral components of the donation and transplant process. From those who wait for organ and tissue transplants, to donors who one day hope to make a lifesaving difference, to donor families who can ease the pain of losing a loved one by knowing he or she gave life to others—all have faith in a greater good beyond themselves.

Donate Life Illinois encourages all Illinoisans to be a part of this special time of hope and thanksgiving by planning and participating in National Donor Sabbath activities and registering to be organ, tissue and eye donors in the Illinois Organ/Tissue Donor Registry.  This selfless act can give hope to nearly 5,000 Illinoisans on the organ transplant waiting list and thousands of others waiting for tissue and cornea transplants.

For more information on organ and tissue donation or to join the Illinois Organ/Tissue Donor Registry, visit For information on how to plan a National Donor Sabbath program for your faith community members, e-mail Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network at or call 888/307-DON8 (3668).

The Gift of Perspective

March 7, 2011

Jeff Govednik is an avid volunteer for Donate Life Illinois. His resolute passion for spreading awareness of organ and tissue donation is the product of a life changed by the gift of sight through cornea transplantation. Jeff is a shining example of how organ and tissue donation changes the lives of those who are so fortunate to receive a lifesaving or life-enhancing gift. We are fortunate that Jeff graciously agreed to share his story to celebrate March as National Eye Donor Month.

Initially, I thought that my eyesight was just getting a little weak. I had problems playing baseball and lost a few golf balls. I also strained while reading or driving. With time, my eyesight gradually worsened. Upon visiting the optometrist to get a pair of glasses, I was told that I needed to see a specialist.

I remember the first time I heard the word “keratoconus.” The doctor explained to me that Keratoconus is a degenerative disease of the corneas that causes patients to gradually lose the ability to see detail. My doctor was able to slow the progression of the disease for a time, but eventually it evolved to where I was unable to see with my left eye. It became apparent that a cornea transplant was the only treatment that could restore my vision.

It was a sobering moment when my doctor called the Illinois Eye-Bank. I was no longer worried about sports or long weekends. I was now scared that I would lose my job as a pharmacist. Would I be able to participate in all of the hobbies that I enjoyed? How would my life change?


Cornea recipient's vision before and after transplant.

My first cornea transplant was in 1999, and my second was in 2009. I was given more than the gift of sight—I was given perspective. I now savor every sunset, value every walk and appreciate every bike ride. Did my life change? Absolutely. Can I do everything that I did before? No, but I gained an appreciation for the things that I could do. I am still a pharmacist, and I am able to continue pursuing my love of sports.  

When you register your decision to be an organ and tissue donor, you do so much more than save lives. You are giving the gift of future experiences. This is a gift so great that it is truly incomprehensible. My donors touched my life as well as the lives of all those around me. Through cornea transplantation, I was given the gift of sight as well as the gift of perspective.

Please, take 30 seconds to register your decision to be an organ and tissue donor at


 Jeff Govednik

To learn more about cornea transplantation and the gift of sight, visit the Illinois Eye-Bank Web site. You can also join their NEW Facebook Fan Page.


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