30 Stories in 30 Days: Kevin’s Life Song

April 11, 2013
Kevin Smith's love of music helped sustain him through two kidney transplants.

Kevin Smith’s love of music helped sustain him through two kidney transplants.

In May 1989, Kevin Smith was 29, married with three daughters and a musician in Los Angeles when he went entered the emergency room at Harbor General UCLA Medical Center. His blood pressure was 322/218, and he had been suffering from severe headaches, blurred vision and nausea.

He was diagnosed with pheochromocytoma, a tumor that causes the adrenal glands to produce high levels of hormones and raises a person’s blood pressure and heart rate. Kevin was told that his long-term hypertension had caused his kidneys to shrink. “What I wasn’t told, and later found out, was that this often leads to kidney failure,” he said.

Kevin moved to Illinois to be near his family and its support system. Soon after the move, he had another major episode and was diagnosed with kidney failure. He was given emergency dialysis for five days to get stabilized. Then he started routine dialysis and went on the kidney transplant list.

Almost two years later, a donor kidney became available, and he had a kidney transplant. But major complications ensued. That led to seven more operations and, eventually, organ rejection. “I went back on dialysis, and it took several months until I was healthy enough to be placed back on the transplant waiting list,” he said.

Thanks to a selfless donor, Kevin is able to pursue his passion of music.

Thanks to a selfless donor, Kevin is able to pursue his passion of music.

His waiting time was anything but unproductive. During his time on dialysis, he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Then, in 1994, he received another call and went to Memorial Medical Center in Springfield for a successful kidney transplant.

It has been more than 18 years since his transplant, and everything today is good. “I’m working in education with at-risk children, I’m still playing music and, most wonderful of all, I’m spending time with my three daughters and five grandchildren,” Kevin said.

Share Your Life Song


Donate Life Illinois shifts to Gift of Hope

June 6, 2012

Since 2006, Donate Life Illinois has provided social media users with organ and tissue donation news, expert insight and engaging digital content. In that time, we built a community of more than 18,000 Facebook fans, created a Twitter presence of nearly 1,450 followers and developed dozens of YouTube videos with over 250,000 views.

Today, the Donate Life Illinois social media channels transitioned to the Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network brand. The newly branded sites for our respective social media channels are:

– Twitter: @GiftofHope
– Blog: GiftofHopeBlog.org
– Facebook: Facebook.com/DonateLifeIllinois (old address, new look!)
– YouTube: YouTube.com/DonateLifeIllinois (old address, new look!)

The look and names of these social media sites might be different, but the news, content and promotions will remain the same. Gift of Hope, in partnership with Donate Life Illinois, remains committed to creating a community of registered donors who are dedicated to building organ and tissue donation awareness across the country.

Keep an eye out for new features, promotions and news regarding Gift of Hope and our social media sites! To learn more about Gift of Hope, visit GiftofHope.org!

– Josh Muller, Public Relations/Marketing Coordinator, Gift of Hope

Illinois Partners with Donate Life America to Register 20 Million in 2012

January 11, 2012

We need your help to register 20 million Americans as organ and tissue donors in 2012!

Jessica Melore celebrated her 30th birthday on January 4, a milestone she wasn’t sure she’d live to experience. At 16, Jessica received a lifesaving heart transplant. Her story of hope and survival helps to launch Donate Life America’s bold new initiative: “20 Million in 2012.

Donate Life America — the national organization promoting organ, eye and tissue donation in the United States – designed its “20 Million in 2012” initiative to focus on dramatically increasing the number of people registered in state donor registries. This official launch of the campaign comes on the heels of DLA’s announcement during the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena  where it has sponsored the Donate Life float each year since 2004. This year’s float again featured inspirational stories of organ donors and their families, a tradition that the “20 Million in 2012” campaign will continue as it features powerful stories of people affected by organ, eye and tissue donation.

“I am so proud to be a part of the campaign’s “I am HOPE” storytelling project,” says Melore. “Real-life stories like mine often inspire people to sign up to be organ, eye and tissue donors.”

By registering your decision to be an organ and tissue donor, you can give hope to more than 112,000 Americans—more than 5,000 Illinoisans—waiting for lifesaving transplants. “We are committed to saving and enhancing as many lives as possible through organ and tissue donation,” says David Bosch, Director of Communications for Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network, which coordinates organ and tissue donation in Illinois and northwest Indiana. “Nearly 6 million Illinois residents have registered their decisions to save and enhance lives through organ and tissue donation. In 2012, we hope to inspire and motivate thousands more to make this ordinary decision that can produce extraordinary results.”

Gift of Hope and other Donate Life Illinois coalition members will support the “20 Million in 2012” campaign’s four featured national events:

  • The Donate Life Flash Mob on March 24
  • Donate Life Blue and Green Virtual Fashion Show on April 20
  • Donate Life Champions in Fall 2012
  • Donate Life Linking Hands for Life being held all year long

For more information about the “20 Million in 2012” campaign, visit DonateLifeAmerica.org. To register your decision to be an organ and tissue donor in Illinois, visit DonateLifeIllinois.org.

Donate Life Rose Parade Wrap-Up

January 5, 2012

Last week was an amazing time for organ and tissue donation advocates across the country and throughout the world.  Donate Life organizations partnered to build and enter the “One More Day” Donate Life Float in the 123rd Tournament of Roses Parade.  The float generated hundreds of donation related stories in the media and showed the estimated 70 million people watching the Rose Parade that organ and tissue donation saves lives.


This year’s Rose Parade was an especially significant event for organ and tissue donation advocates here in Illinois.  The Donate Life Float featured two riders who call the great state of Illinois home. Alex Rodriguez, of Cicero, was sponsored by Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network riding in honor of his brother Francisco “Paco” Rodriguez.  The second rider, Linda Henning, resides in Crossville and was sponsored by Donor Alliance of Denver, Colorado.  Linda rode in honor of her son, Marc, a former cadet in the U.S. Air Force Academy.

Alex Rodriguez and Linda Henning in front of the Donate Life Float

Both Alex and Linda spent their time in Pasadena building awareness for organ and tissue donation and networking with donor families and recipients from across the United States.  It was truly an amazing time to honor loved ones, make life-long connections, and celebrate the “Gift of Life” that is organ and tissue donation.

Alex Rodriguez sitting next to Paco's heart recipient, Alexis Sloan, on the Donate Life Float

If you would like to learn more about the Donate Life Float and the Rose Parade, check out the links to news stories and resources at the bottom of this post.  To see more pictures of our Illinois float riders, visit the Donate Life Illinois Facebook Page or go to the Donate Life Float Media Center.

National Media Surrounding the Donate Life Float

ESPN.com – The parade of life

CNN.com – Two families bond after child’s death saves another

Regional Coverage of Illinois riders and honorees

Fox Chicago News –Friends and Family Honor Boxer Paco Rodriguez

ABC Chicago – Late Chicago boxer to be honored at Rose Parade

Univision Chicago – Niño Azteka será honrado en Los Ángeles

Telemundo Chicago – Murió en el cuadrilátero, pero sigue viviendo

The Denver Post – Organ donors’ families celebrate gift of life at Calif. Event

Carmi Times – Phillipstown represented in Rose Parade

More Resources

Visit the Donate Life Facebook Page for photos of the Illinois riders and honorees.

Go to DonateLifeFloat.org for more information on the Donate Life Float.

Register your decision to save lives through organ and tissue donation at DonateLifeIllinois.org!

Celebrate the Gift of Life on Child Health Day

October 4, 2011

Monday, October 3, marked the 83rd annual celebration of Child Health Day. This brings to mind many stories of lifesaving organ transplants given to children in need. During April, we featured the story of Mia Royer, a one-year-old girl who received a lifesaving intestine transplant in 2009. Today, she is fully recovered and living the life of a healthy, happy three-year-old.

Mia and the Royer Family

Our friends at Children’s Memorial Hospital have featured the stories of several children waiting for and receiving lifesaving organ transplants. Mackenzie Tannhauser, a 17-year-old girl from Crystal Lake, posted a video diary of her wait for a heart transplant. Her series of videos shows the “ups and downs” associated with waiting for the gift of life. Thankfully, she received a transplant last month and is on the way to leading a healthy, productive life.

There’s also the story of Drew Boedigheimer, a two-year-old boy and Cubs fan who received two life-changing gifts—a new heart from a selfless donor and a visit from his favorite Cubs player, Darwin Barney. After his transplant, Drew’s doctor encouraged the Boedigheimer family to contact the Cubs to set up a visit from Barney, their rookie second baseman. The Cubs were more than happy to accommodate the request, and Barney paid a visit and help raise Drew’s spirits. Watch Drew’s story at WGN.com.

Todd & Drew Boedigheimer

Stories like this are made possible by people who make the decision to be registered organ and tissue donors. Learn more about how you can help save lives through organ and tissue donation at DonateLifeIllinois.org.  It takes just 30 seconds to register. It’s an ordinary action that can produce extraordinary results.

Mark Your Calendars for the 15th Anniversary of National Minority Donor Awareness Day

July 28, 2011

August 1 is the 15th Anniversary of National Minority Donor Awareness Day.

Alonzo Mourning on National Minority Donor Awareness Day

Minority populations in the United States, particularly African-Americans, are disproportionately affected by illnesses that can lead to the need for organ, tissue or eye transplants. In Illinois, nearly 5,000 people are on the organ transplant waiting list. Nearly 40 percent of these people are African-Americans, most of whom are waiting for a donor kidney.

Many of the conditions leading to the need for a transplant, such as diabetes and hypertension, occur with greater frequency among minority populations. National Minority Donor Awareness Day, observed annually on August 1, seeks to raise awareness of the urgent need for donors and transplants within the multicultural community. A secondary goal is to educate the public about donation facts and how to register their decision to donate life.

According to data from Donate Life America, minorities make up many of the people who receive organs but very few of those who donate. In 2010, 5,963 African-Americans received organ transplants, but only 2,089
African-Americans were donors. In the same year, 3,795 Latinos received an organ transplant, but only 1,953 Latinos were donors.

Although ethnicity and race are not determining factors in who receives donated organs, the success rates of transplants increase when organs are matched between members of the same ethnic and racial group. Lower donation rates among minorities can result in longer waiting periods for transplants for minority organ recipients. Currently, minorities make up 55 percent of the 111,000 people on the transplant waiting list in the United States.

Assistant Secretary for Health, Dr. Howard K. Koh and Founder of National Minority Donor Awareness Day, Dr. Clive O. Callendar

Individuals and organizations across the country are celebrating the 15th anniversary of National Minority Donor Awareness Day. Take this opportunity to build awareness within your home and your community. Share your decision to give life through organ and tissue donation.

In Chicago, Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network will host a press conference at Mt. Sinai Hospital to encourage all minority groups to register as organ and tissue donors.  Navigate to the full press release for additional details.

Take 30 seconds to register as an organ and tissue donor at DonateLifeIllinois.org!

Donate Life Hollywood Films

July 19, 2011

Each year, Donate Life Hollywood issues grants to filmmakers to assist them with their efforts in creating films that promote organ and tissue donation.  These films are featured as part of the Donate Life Hollywood Inspire Awards and one of them is declared the Donate Life Film of the Year.

In 2010, there were six grants given to filmmakers from across the country.  The Donate Life Filmmakers successfully captured the stories of hope, generosity, transformation and love that define Donate Life.  Their films are featured below.

Let us know which film is your favorite by leaving a comment.

Amanda’s Caretaker

By Matt Radecki

Dear Donor: A Toronto Story

By Luke Mines

Function v Emotion

By David Urbanic

Give Hope

By Demetrius Navarro

Dinner Table Talk

By Paul Madsen


By Erin Staub

Are you a registered organ and tissue donor? Take 30 seconds to register your decision to be a lifesaving organ and tissue donor at DonateLifeIllinois.org.

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