WOODSTOCK — The worst moment for one family can lead to the best moments for others when someone chooses to donate a life.
Recalling the night in 2010 when her 21-year-old daughter, Jessica, drowned in the Shenandoah River at Morgan Ford low water bridge in Front Royal, Winchester resident Tammy Barr touted the life-changing effect her daughter’s death had on dozens of others waiting for donations.
“She lives on in a lot of people — lots and lots of people, all the way from Florida to New York and out to Kansas City.”
She helped largely through donations of bone marrow and tissue to firefighters and others who suffered burns, Barr said.
Because she had elected to be a donor, her mother said, “She was able to enhance the lives of 71 people.”
At a Monday ceremony at Shenandoah Memorial Hospital, members of Valley Health and LifeNet Health joined families touched by organ donation to unveil the Tree of Life donor recognition wall honoring those who have given the gift of life.
N. Travis Clark, president of Shenandoah Memorial Hospital, recalled how his cousin, a 32-year-old school teacher, saved the lives of five others after her unexpected death.
“What was a very, very sad day for our family became the happiest day for five other families for the lives she was able to save,” he said.
The donor recognition wall features a Tree of Life with placards for the names of individuals who have donated life.
For a tree to grow, there has to be sunlight, Clark explained. “And in our case, for people to have a second chance at life, there have to be donors.”
Barr praised LifeNet for their support following her daughter’s death, saying they were instrumental in helping her get through her grief.
Like their name suggests, she said, “They just wrapped their net around me and held me.”
Though organ, tissue and bone marrow donation is a well-known idea in the U.S., Barr pointed out that various myths might keep people from donating.
One such myth is that doctors won’t try to save the life of a patient who has signed up to be a donor, but she said that isn’t true.
Her daughter’s organs weren’t useable for donation because of how she died, but if they had been, she said Jessica might have saved the lives of an additional seven people.
“Everybody should sign up and give someone that opportunity to have a better life,” Barr said.
Around the country, there are 114,000 people waiting for organs, said Rick Fowler, director of hospital services for LifeNet Health, one of 58 organizations designated by the federal government to assist in the transfer of tissue, organ and eye donations.
LifeNet, which covers most of Virginia and some of West Virginia, presented the Tree of Life recognition wall through a grant from the LifeNet Health Foundation. It was the third presentation in Virginia this year, Fowler said, and one of about seven around the commonwealth so far.
“This is a great way to honor the memory of the donors and the legacy that they have left behind,” he said.
“Donors save lives and restore hope for others,” Fowler said, reading remarks from LifeNet Vice President Todd Hubler, who had a death in the family and couldn’t attend Monday’s ceremony.
Kathy Chrisman, of Luray, has been on both sides of organ donation after receiving a liver transplant and also watching her husband save the lives of 27 others through his death.
Chrisman waited six months on the national transplant list for a liver after suffering from primary sclerosing cholangitis — a chronic liver disease and sister disease to ulcerative colitis, which she also has. She received a liver in 2007 from a donor in Kentucky.
She and her husband, Mike, were longtime proponents of donation, she said. After he suffered a fatal heart attack in September 2016, his eyes and tissue went to help people like a father with several young children, a grandmother and a runner, who all sent letters to Chrisman thanking her husband for his lifesaving gift.
The letters have helped her through the grieving process, relating some of the ways her husband has been a hero to so many others.
“I do talk it up, because I think donation is so important,” she said. Without it, “I wouldn’t be here.”