Drivers often pay little mind when they check off the box on their driver’s license form to become an organ donor.
Ellen Smoll, of Lancaster, certainly didn’t think about it before June 20, 2012.
That day, Smoll’s son, Evan Bunting, was killed in a tragic motorcycle accident. He died a month shy of his 21st birthday.
“I never realized how much goes into it,” she said, until she received a phone call from an organization called Gift of Life shortly thereafter.
People with the organization graciously asked Smoll if she would consent to donating her son’s organs.
Her answer, despite her consuming grief: “Yes, absolutely.”
That consequential response affected the lives of 75 people who have received some part of Evan, from his heart, lungs, cornea, skin, bones and more.
“It’s really quite amazing,” Smoll’s sister, Kelly Albright, said of the impact. “You can be a hero like Evan if you check that box.”
Both Smoll and Albright were at a gathering Sunday afternoon at the Masonic Village Freemasons Cultural Center in Elizabethtown honoring donors, their families and the recipients whose lives were saved by organ donations.
Smoll passed roses to more than 200 people who attended the local Life and Legacy Celebration. Some brought stories of their loved ones in the form of knitted squares to add to the “threads of love” quilts hung up around the room.
It is a solemn event, but one that many who have gone through it say brings healing and meaning to their lives following a life-altering loss.
“To have his heart beating in somebody else, and eyesight and all the things he could provide, kept a part of him living,” Smoll said. She and Albright have gone on to become living donors by each donating one of their kidneys.
Nearly 50% of Pennsylvanians are registered as organ donors through their driver’s licenses and state identification cards, according to a Gift of Life regional spokeswoman.
Still, more than 7,500 people in Pennsylvania are waiting for a life-saving organ.
‘Thank you is not enough’
Nationally, 20 people die each day while waiting for an organ.
Heather Leverington, of Bellefonte, was almost one of those people.
She had been waiting for nine months and received two earlier calls for lungs that turned out not to be viable.
But had she not undergone her double lung transplant Nov. 8, 2016, doctors told her, she likely would’ve died a week later.
Leverington came to the local ceremony to speak about her journey and gratitude for donors and their families.
Leverington has polymyositis, an inflammatory condition, that brought on interstitial lung disease, which causes scarring of the lungs.
Following the transplant, she got some basic information about the person whose lungs she received: They were from a 28-year-old woman.
She recalled the letter she wrote to the woman’s family after her 12-hour operation.
“You sit there and you write and you cry,” she said three times over. “Thank you is not enough.”
Not a day goes by that she doesn’t live with gratitude for her own “gift of life.”
“The organ donor who I carry next to my heart,” Leverington said, fighting back tears, “I thank every day for her gift. It’s my breath in her lungs and together we’re going to tell our story.”