Rochester, Minnesota - On Sept. 28, 2014, Tracy Liedl received a call every parent fears. Her only child, 22-year-old Darryn, was found unresponsive and was on life support at Mayo Clinic Hospital, Saint Marys Campus. Three days later, he was declared brain dead. But a part of him lives on, through a gift he decided to make when he was just 16 years old.
"Darryn made the choice to check the box on his driver's license to be an organ donor," says Tracy, a medical secretary at Mayo Clinic. That her son made that choice didn't surprise her. "He was such a kind-hearted, giving person," she tells us. "It was a blessing that we were able to honor his wishes."
So it was that on Oct. 3, 2014, Darryn gave the gift of life to a 20-year-old man, who received one of his kidneys and his liver, and a 49-year-old man, who received his other kidney. "Darryn is truly my hero," Tracy says.
Mayo Clinic thinks Darryn and other donors are heroes, too. And to recognize their heroism, Mayo's Rochester campus raises a Donate Life flag whenever a donation is taking place. Beginning in April, Mayo's Florida campus will do the same. The flag raisings are part of a larger effort by Donate Life America to "honor and celebrate the hundreds of thousands of donors and recipients whose lives are affected" by organ donation says Kathy Selden, community and partner relations manager at LifeSource. Flying the flag is one way for places like Mayo Clinic "to make a very visible and unified statement about the importance of donation," she says, and to "honor the donor, the decision to donate, and the gifts that will be given."
Friends and family members gather to celebrate those who provided the gift of life through organ donation.
In Rochester, there's also a flag presentation ceremony for donors' friends and families. During the ceremonies, which are attended by clergy members as well as Mayo Clinic and LifeSource staff, families receive a certificate and a Donate Life flag. The ceremony is "powerful for the families, and for the staff as well," says Cathy Dudley, LifeSource liaison at Mayo Clinic, adding that the ceremonies help bring "meaning and comfort" to families of donors.
Dudley and her colleagues also organize a Walk of Remembrance each year on National Donate Life Day. This year's event will begin at 4 p.m. on Friday, April 15. Participants will meet at the flagpole in front of the Saint Marys Campus and walk together to the Gift of Life Transplant House.
Tracy Liedl was part of last year's event. "Darryn's dad and I, along with another couple who had also lost their son, were asked to carry the Donate Life flag," she tell us. When they arrived at the Gift of Life house, they "handed the flag to a little boy who had recently received a heart transplant." It was a bittersweet" moment, but one Tracy says she felt "blessed to be a part of." It reminded her, she says, "that through tragedy, miracles can and do happen."