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The ultimate gift

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Bentley Sexton, 1, is held by her mother Sabrina Hanners, of Strasburg at the organ donor remembrance service at the Winchester Medical Center. Bentley was diagnosed with an enlarged heart at the age of 3 weeks. She received a new heart from a donor and remains healthy. Dennis Grundman/Daily

Remembrance service honors organ donors and recipients

By Alex Bridges -- abridges@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- Jessica Barr's unexpected death in Warren County last year gave new life to others through organ and tissue donation.

Bentley Sexton celebrated her first birthday Oct. 25 thanks to a donor's heart.

Winchester Medical Center on Friday held a remembrance service in its chapel for donors and recipients of organs and tissues. The service coincided with National Donor Sabbath weekend. The medical center has been involved in the care of 14 tissue and eight organ donors representing 27 transplanted organs this year through Sept. 30, according to hospital statistics. While doctors at the hospital do not perform transplant surgery, its staff works closely with LifeNet and the patient families with donation opportunities.

Hospital chaplain Peter Ford led the service, which he said celebrated people caring, giving and receiving. Ford also referred to the memorial Tree of Life sculpture, outside the chapel, which features 26 leaves, each engraved with name of a donor. The hospital plans to add four more leaves to the tree, Ford said.

Family members gave tearful accounts of their loved ones whose choice to donate organs and tissue helped improve and save the lives of others.

Sabrina Hanners held her daughter, Bentley, cooing and making noises. At 3 weeks old, doctors discovered the infant suffered from an enlarged heart and needed a new heart to live. Bentley received her new heart and now remains healthy, according to Hanners.

"We just recently wrote our letters to our donor families to thank them and we decided that we're going to continue doing it every year on her birthday because we can't tell them enough, 'thank you,' because without that happening she wouldn't be here," Hanners said. "Even though she's spoiled rotten, her donor's families are our family's heroes because, without them, we wouldn't have Bentley."

Barbara Schmid, of Charles Town, W.Va., said her daughter, Jenny Hignite, died in a motor vehicle crash at 23.

"She was very outgoing, very loving and a very caring person, and she had the foresight to have on her driver's license that she wanted to be a donor," Schmid said. "We had a very loving experience here at the hospital where she was able to donate."

Hignite donated three organs that helped three recipients, Schmid said. Hignite's tissue donation also benefited nearly 25 people. Schmid received her first note from a recipient of Hignite's donation this week -- a woman who had a bone graft using the donated tissue that she said helped improve her life.

"So, although it was very hard, I know she lives on and helps a lot of people," Schmid said through tears.

Janice Louise Popkins died of a heart ailment. Her daughter-in-law, Jamie Popkins, of Harpers Ferry, W.Va., said a man received a needed liver transplant thanks to the donation and the woman's "beautiful skin" tissue went to help numerous people.

"We really don't know how many family members we helped but, whoever they are and wherever they are, we're praying for them and blessed that they get to live through her," Popkins said.

Tammy Barr told the roomful of people through tears about her daughter, Jessica, who made the choice to donate.

"She was a very responsible, giving person and she was only 21 but she was responsible enough to make her decision," Barr said. "She didn't get her driver's license until she was almost 20 so she looked for that box to mark to make sure that everyone that came after her marked that box -- everybody at school, everybody anywhere that she knew was getting their driver's license to mark that box."

A Virginia man who suffered a torn ACL returned to work thanks to her daughter's tissue donation, Barr said.

"He is raising his family and he leads a very productive life, so she lives on in everybody's hearts but she lives on in people as well, just like everybody else when you make your donation, you're never, ever, ever gone," Barr said.

Outside the chapel families of donors and recipients met and talked about the service and organ donation.

"I didn't know until Jenny passed away that several people could be helped," Schmid said. "Through LifeNet I've been able to find out that many people have been helped."

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