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Celebrating the Gift of Life This Holiday Season

This time of year, it’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the holidays and forget to take a moment to be grateful for what you have. As the sister of an organ donor who passed away in 2004, I like to take time around the holidays to remember my sister’s heroic gifts of life, and be grateful for the second chance she gave to so many others.

I remember my sister Kenzie’s sweet laugh and freckles. She was the glue that did and still does hold my family together. Kenzie was a good student; a typical teenage girl that enjoyed driving around in her little Honda Civic listening to music with her friends. Kenzie tragically passed away in October 2004, just four days before her 18th birthday. As a registered organ, eye and tissue donor, Kenzie was able to save the lives of five transplant recipients after her death.

The beginning of my re-building process after Kenzie’s death was the moment I learned of the news of her donation. Since then, my family and I have spoken with nearly all of Kenzie’s recipients, and have met her heart recipient, Dylan, and his family. Dylan has had Kenzie’s heart for 12 years and I can’t imagine anyone more deserving.

In July 2016, Dylan, his wife, brother and parents met me and my family at a coffee shop. After sharing stories and pictures and shedding many tears, we decided to go to “Kenzie’s tree.” Before our father passed away, he planted a tree and installed a bench with a plaque in a park near the home where we grew up. It was there that Dylan asked us if we wanted to hear his heart, Kenzie’s heart. After placing our hands over his heart and feeling it beat, we all sobbed. The best way I can put the experience into words is that I was overwhelmed with familiarity. In that moment, Dylan was no longer a stranger and wouldn’t be again.

The gift of donation truly weaves in and out of your grief for your loved one as the years go on. It has become part of the yin and yang of the story of my sister. In Chinese philosophy, yin and yang – dark and light – describe how seemingly opposite or contrary forces may actually be complementary, interconnected and interdependent in the natural world. How these forces may give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another. The stories of Kenzie’s recipients are the light in my dark.

In sharing Kenzie’s story this holiday season, I am hopeful that I can help to inspire others to say “yes” to organ, eye and tissue donation. DonatelifeColorado.org is a great resource with the facts you need to make an informed decision about donation and to register as a donor online. You can also register while obtaining a driver’s license or state ID.