Giving the gift of life

April is National Donate Life Month. At University Health System, we work daily to raise awareness of the importance of organ and tissue donation. This month, we’re doing even more — both to encourage people to consider becoming donors, and to honor the many who have given the gift of life to our patients over the years.

University Hospital has had a long and important role in organ transplantation. Our hospital performed its first organ transplant in 1968, the year it opened its doors. A 39-year-old woman named Joan Wish received new kidneys here and went on to live another four decades — serving as a role model for other patients. This was before dialysis was common, and kidney failure was often a death sentence. We helped pioneer the field of lung transplants under the leadership of the late Dr. Kent Trinkle.

In the past 25 years or so, more than 3,300 people have received an organ transplant at University Hospital. Walk down the halls of our transplant unit and you can see the happy faces of many of them in photographs lining the walls. Beginning this month, every time you see this Donate Life flag flying at University Hospital, you will know a life was saved through organ donation.

Unfortunately, almost 5,000 others in South and Central Texas are candidates on the waiting list at this moment, waiting to see if a matching liver or kidney or lung can be found. You can see those faces too as you walk through our hospital, often making their way to the transplant clinic.

Here in our newly opened Sky Tower, where transplants are now taking place, our Healing Garden on the first floor was designed for patients and families to enjoy a breath of fresh air and sunlight, a place where they can find a little peace and quiet. Along with the plants and flowers, we also installed some works of art. The most prominent piece of artwork is by an Austin artist named Susan Wallace. It’s called Tree of Life/Book of Memories, and it’s a beautiful new version of the tree of life we’ve had in our transplant unit for several years now. Each year, families of organ donors place a leaf bearing the name of their loved one on the tree. It becomes both a memorial and a symbol of hope.

You can be part of that hope. Consider becoming an organ and tissue donor. Take a moment to join the Texas Donate Life Registry. Discuss it with your families so they know your wishes. Give the gift of life today.

Tim Brierty is CEO of University Hospital