Alan Taylor, director of Tissue Services at Donor Network of Arizona (DNA), was in high school when he received the diagnosis that he was in early stages of keratoconus. Keratoconus occurs when your cornea becomes distorted, and in Taylor’s case, caused his vision in his left eye to eventually be nothing more than color and movement.
“I couldn’t see people. I would be virtually blind…it was like looking through a kaleidoscope.”
As an early intervention, Taylor was wearing bifocals in college, trying to read through his coursework and live his life like any other student.
Alan Taylor, director of tissue services at DNA, has 14+ years of eye banking experiences helping others get their vision back, like he did through donation.
In December 1995, he received his first cornea transplant. Immediately after the doctor took off the bandages on his healing eye, Taylor says he could see the details of the outlet on the wall across the room. Something so simple meant so much to him, and it was possible because a 19-year-old woman had given the gift of sight through cornea donation.
Fast forward nine years later, and Taylor was in a mountain bike accident that severely damaged his left eye. He ultimately needed a second cornea transplant.
“I was essentially a young guy, and [being visually impaired] made interactions with my family different. It was difficult because I knew I wasn’t present all the time. I didn’t participate as I should’ve.”
Thanks to the generosity of a 75-year-old man, Taylor’s vision was once again restored. After receiving his second transplant, he didn’t have those limitations that took time from his family.
“It changed my life and changed my son’s life, my children’s life.” Taylor’s journey with cornea donation is one of many stories and lives that have been changed for the better because of cornea donors.
“It’s a tremendous gift and I think about it on a daily basis.”
Cornea donation process
November is Eye Donation Month, and the cornea is one of the many tissues that can be a healing gift for someone in need. A cornea transplant involves the replacement of a diseased or scarred cornea with a cornea recovered from a donor.
DNA is a full-service eye bank, and works with ophthalmologists and surgeons locally, nationally and even internationally to help restore sight.
Luckily, there is not currently a waiting list for cornea transplants in the U.S., and most people have their cornea transplant within 30 days of needing it.
Not without its challenges
In 2020, we had toilet paper and hand sanitizer shortages. Years later, the domino effect hit less crucial items, such as carbon dioxide for carbonated beverages or the right ingredients for certain hot sauces. But the gift of life was not left out of supply chain issues.
The country was running out of a cornea preservation solution in 2022. In an era of scarcity, the DNA team was creative and resourceful, because organ, eye and tissue recipients depend on us every day.
DNA was so agile and vigilant that this cornea preservation solution shortage didn’t affect recipients. Our team even shared this vital resource with other eye banks struggling with similar limitations, so that they too could meet an ongoing need.
How you can help
Cornea donation is a life-changing procedure, and this process is possible because of the generous decision of donors. However, unlike cornea donation, there sadly aren’t enough organ donations to save the lives of everyone on the national waiting list. Yet! We have been working hard to change that. Each year, the country’s organ donation system gets closer to the 50,000 yearly transplant goal. That’s largely because we never lack support when it comes to our professional partnerships, the community, and the people who say yes to the gift of life.
We all may be in need of certain supplies, and face the challenges that this brings, but we have an abundance of hope to offer because we get so much of it from you. Registering to be a donor can help so many people who are awaiting a transplant, and lives are changed every day thanks to those who have registered. Register today at www.DonateLifeAZ.org.
When Cait Kelley found a lump in her breast, her doctor assured her it was “probably nothing,” she says. After trusting her gut and demanding a mammogram, that lump became “definitely something” in the span of a week. She was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer at 33, a diagnosis that often comes with a three-to four-year prognosis.
As anyone can imagine, the news was concerning. She spent countless hours researching the cancer diagnosis and looking into clinical trials, treatment and more. Cait was prepared for the worst entering her appointment with her oncologist, breast surgeon and plastic surgeon. To her surprise, her doctors looked past the outdated statistics and instead, they saw an otherwise healthy 33-year-old woman and told her they were going to treat her with “curative intent,” essentially with recovery as an option.
Treatment with Curative Intent
Cait was treated with aggressive chemotherapy and surgery. She spent six months fighting through eight rounds of chemo and medication, and at the end of 2020, her tumor was miraculously gone.
Due to the fear of the cancer coming back, Cait was ready to get a double mastectomy with no reconstruction. When she stepped into her appointment with her plastic surgeon, he both validated her concerns and gave her all the options before she made her decision.
Decisions Based on Hope
Cait prayed to the universe to give her a sign on what decision to make. The night before she had to decide, she read a quote in “Becoming” by Michelle Obama that stood out to her: “Don’t ever make decisions based on fear. Make decisions based on hope and possibility.”
This brought her clarity, and on Dec. 29, 2020, a day before her 34th birthday, she had a double mastectomy with reconstruction.
Two years later, she’s happy with her decision because she feels physically and mentally improved. Because the doctors lead with hope, she is now declared NED (no evidence of disease).
Celebrating BRA Day
On Oct. 19, 2022, Donor Network of Arizona (DNA) celebrated Breast Reconstruction Awareness (BRA) Day by hosting an event where Cait shared her story with staff. BRA Day is a national observance designed to promote education, awareness and access to information regarding post-mastectomy breast reconstruction options.
Breast reconstruction is often made possible through the generosity of tissue donors. Just one tissue donor can help up to five people with reconstruction following mastectomy.
Cait received a life-changing gift of tissue, though not during her reconstruction surgery. In 2016, she underwent surgery to repair hip dysplasia, and thanks to a generous donor, was able to run again.
“I was sidelined from so many things, and that person gave me my life back,” said Cait.
We host events like these to make sure women and men of all ages have information on breast cancer and know what to look for during a self-examination. After Cait’s presentation, the afternoon continued with activities like making cards for patients with cancer, signing a pink ribbon in honor of a loved one and a fun photobooth to help spread this message across social media platforms.
To register as a tissue donor and give hope, please visit DonateLifeAZ.org.
Donor Network of Arizona (DNA) celebrated Donate Life Day at the Arizona Diamondbacks game on July 9, 2022. The event was a huge success with over 2,500 tickets sold in our sections at the game. We invited donor families and recipients to celebrate the life of their loved one or honor their donor. Donation Champions and professional partners were also dressed in green and filled the stands. As guests walked into the stadium, they were greeted by a registration table, where they were able to sign up as organ, eye and tissue donors or reaffirm their decision.
Before the first pitch, more than 1,000 people with a donation connection lapped the diamond in matching green shirts while holding posters and photos of their loved ones in a Celebration of Life parade. In the stands were roughly 2,500 people in those same shirts during the game, the largest in-person event DNA’s ever held.
As the game started, Debbie Edenhofer, mother to a fallen Arizona Department of Public Safety trooper and generous donor, wound up on the pitcher’s mound to throw the first pitch.
“He was my hero,” Debbie says about her son, Trooper Tyler James Edenhofer. “I just feel like if I met [his recipients], I could see a piece of my son.”
For now, she holds onto his photo to encourage others to be a hero, too. Tyler suffered a gunshot wound after he responded to 911 calls of someone throwing stones at cars on I-10 near Avondale in 2018. Only 24, and engaged to be married, Tyler passed away. He donated tissue and corneas to heal others and restore vision for two people.
“I think everyone should be an organ donor,” Debbie says.
Recognizing Donation Heroes
Thanks to the generosity of Arizona donors, 790 lives were saved in 2021, and thousands more were healed.
Donor family members honored Stevie Pierce Jr. and Kyson Land, who both gave the generous gift of life to others. Double-lung recipient Allison Stokes, kidney recipient Tristan Black and his living donor Harmony Wells showed the lifesaving impact of donation. Also joining us on the field was a family who, due to a genetic condition, are all heart recipients, Adolfo Lopez, Adilene Lopez and their mother Guadalupe Aispuro. Finally, we recognized our donation champions, including employees at Motor Vehicle Division, driver’s license partners, Arizona hospital employees and others who make donation possible!
A Sea of Green
Ketchup wins! Two grandkids of Lynn Daily, donor mom to Jacob Daily, participated in the Hot Dog Derby.
“They were shocked at how many people would be watching them,” says Lynn. “But they are ‘Dailys’ and competitive, so they got over that quick!”
The kids were shown on the jumbotron along with the DNA sections where all of the donor families and friends, transplant recipients, living donors and champions of donation sat. The section looked like a bright green sea, due to all of the people wearing their Donate Life and Done Vida shirts provided by DNA.
Volunteers during the game loved the experience as well. Both registration tables were busy throughout the entire game, and more than 220 people registered for the first time during the event.
“I really liked the parade. It was very beautiful to see all the families together supporting each other and donation, it was very touching,” said volunteers Kaylynn and Carson. It was their first time volunteering for DNA and they are excited to come back for the next event.
Thank you to everyone who made this day possible and to everyone who participated and celebrated Donate Life Day at the Diamondbacks.
We all know lives are saved through donation. Moreover, the decision to donate not only multiplies compassion in our world, it creates a space for healing. Events like Donate Life Day at the Diamondbacks is just one of the many spaces where families are invited to heal during the months and years following the loss of a loved one. Hearts and minds open as people hear how the gift of life and health were so selflessly offered and how a donor’s legacy is remembered forever. Click here to see just some of the ways we help donor families navigate their journey.
We encourage everyone to register as an organ, eye and tissue donor to give a second chance at life. To register, visit DonateLifeAZ.org.
Valen Krasnov was just 3 years old when his parents were told he was in liver failure and needed a transplant. The shocking news came after Valen and his father, Zaccarri, went on a camping trip and afterward noticed Valen’s eyes were almost completely yellow. He was admitted into the hospital in June 2021.
“We really thought we would bring him to the hospital, get some medicine and go home,” says his mother, Kelsey. Luckily, Valen matched and received a transplant within 12 hours of being put on the transplant list, an indication of just how sick he truly was.
“We’re so grateful we only waited 12 hours when others wait years,” said Zaccarri.
Now, more than a year after Valen’s transplant, “he’s doing really well, he’s really happy.” Since Valen was relatively healthy before his rapid illness and transplant, there’s been an adjustment period for the family as they get used to the changes that come with an organ transplant. Things are looking up as Valen, now 4 years old, is getting back into his routine and finally able to go swimming, which was a big goal of his.
“We think about [Valen’s donor] every day,” says Kelsey. They call his donor the “tummy angel” and are already thinking of ways to make family traditions to celebrate the donor and make sure they are remembered.
Kelsey and Zaccarri are looking forward to sending a letter to Valen’s donor’s family to express their gratitude for their selfless donation.
“I started writing some things out about what I want to say in our letter, there’s so much I want to say but there are not enough words, we are very grateful…We got a second chance with him,” explains Kelsey.
The mother of two is doing her part in encouraging people to register as organ, eye and tissue donors by explaining how it impacted her family. Recently, she was at the Arizona Department of Transportation Motor Vehicle Division when she realized a woman next to her was debating on checking the box to become an organ donor. “I told her Valen’s entire story, and she checked the box to become an organ donor.”
There are more than 106,000 people waiting on the transplant list, more than 1,500 in Arizona alone, and every person who becomes an organ donor gives hope to those who are still waiting. Thanks to the generosity of an organ donor, Valen received a second chance at life.
One of the many misconceptions about organ, eye and tissue donation is that members of the LGBTQ+ community are not able to register as organ donors, or receive a transplant.
This is FALSE.
Andrew Banacki, living kidney donor from Ohio, speaks on the misconceptions that come with organ donation and how his family’s life was impacted by organ donation. Banacki is a proud gay man, and he was able to donate his kidney to his father, giving him another chance at life.
“I think in the gay community there’s a huge misconception that – say I’m a gay male – I can’t give blood, so nobody’s going to take my organs,” says Kent Holloway, former CEO of Lifeline of Ohio at the time of Banacki’s interview. “So why am I going to register? I can’t do anything. And it couldn’t be farther from the truth.”
While it’s true that people in the LGBTQ+ community have experienced being denied from some avenues of donation based on current exclusion criteria, organ donation is regulated differently than other types of donation.
Who Can Register?
A person’s sexual orientation and gender identity or expression have no determination over whether they can register as an organ donor, or receive an organ transplant. A national system matches available organs from the donor with people on the waiting list based on blood type, body size, how sick they are, donor distance, tissue type and time on the list. Sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or expression, race, income, celebrity and social status are never considered. Plus, HIV, which has historically impacted the LGBTQ+ community, as well as hepatitis C infections, no longer prevent the possibility of lifesaving organ donation.
There are truly no limitations on who can register as a lifesaving organ, eye and tissue donor on DonateLifeAZ.org. As we celebrate Pride Month, we encourage members of the LGBTQ+ community to register to become organ, eye and tissue donors. There are over 106,000 people in need for transplants, and by registering, you can help save and heal lives.
A Second Chance At Life
After communicating through letters and social media for a couple years, kidney recipient Michael Learned and his husband, Matthew, finally met the family of Michael’s donor. Michael grew up with Type 1 diabetes and knew he would need a transplant in the future to save his life. Thanks to organ donor Jordyn Avelar, Michael received a second chance at life. The selfless decision to register as a donor results in countless second chances and changed lives every single day.
Donate Life Arizona encourages everyone to sign up to be an organ donor, regardless of sexuality or gender identity or expression. Help us offer hope to the 106,000 people on the national organ waiting list, and let’s bring an end to these misconceptions.
This April, Donor Network of Arizona (DNA) celebrated Donate Life Month in honor of those who have given the gift of donation, and those whose lives have been forever changed by receiving the gift of life. Thanks to the hard work of our partner organizations, 450 new people joined in the DonateLifeAZ Registry in April, and nearly 500 people reaffirmed their decision!
What's the Buzz?
On April 8, two passionate champions of donation – living donor Bonnie Palomo and RN Robin Royer joined us for our What’s the Buzz? livestream. In a close competition, they answered trivia questions about donation and audience members chimed in with their guesses. Ultimately, Bonnie was crowned our “queen bee” as she showed her passion about how donation changes lives by getting the most questions correct!
Bonnie has good reason to know firsthand the lifechanging impact of donation. She realized just how powerful the gift of donation is when her father-in-law received a kidney in 2007. After witnessing how her father-in-law’s life changed after his transplant, it was no question that Bonnie would be tested when co-worker and friend Randi Ruiz learned that she was in renal failure. Bonnie immediately called the transplant center and learned the two friends were a match. Since then, Bonnie and Randi have remained extremely close and consider each other to be like family. Bonnie is a regional manager at the Arizona Motor Vehicle Department (ADOT MVD), which promotes organ donation every day.
“MVD touches so many lives every single day,” Bonnie says. “I am proud to be a part of an organization that supports and promotes organ donation and helps educate customers on the benefits and rewards of saving lives by being a registered organ donor.”
Thanking our community for making a difference!
We also want to thank and give a shout out to our amazing hospital and community partners who joined us in raising the Donate Life flag on April 18. Not only does this symbolize the support of our amazing partners, but also honors those who have shared their stories on how donation has touched them and their loved ones. If you’d like to purchase your own flag, visit Donate Life America’s online store. Watch how we honored donation heroes at DNA here.
Friendly Competition in the Spirit of Donation
National Blue and Green Day was on April 22, and we loved seeing people all over America show their spirit by decorating their homes and offices, baking yummy treats that highlighted their donation spirit, and posting on social media about how excited they were to celebrate Blue and Green Day! Here at DNA, our Community Involvement Committee split our staff into a blue team and a green team for a water drive competition. The blue team took home the victory of donating the most water bottles and monetary donations to benefit Phoenix Rescue Mission and Gospel Rescue Mission in Tucson. We collected over 3,500 water bottles in total this year, which will undoubtedly make a difference to those in need. Go blue team!
Honoring Donor Heroes
Lastly, we ended Donate Life Month with Donor Remembrance Day on April 30. It would be impossible to celebrate Donate Life Month without recognizing those who selflessly shared the gift of life. Every day, those anxiously awaiting the call that would change their lives forever receive that second chance thanks to donors and their families. We invited family and friends to create a page in honor of their loved one and share their story of how donation has touched their hearts. To view these pages, please visit www.LiveOnAZ.org/stories.
We are honored to be able to celebrate donation not only this past month, but every month here at DNA, and thank those who make donation possible!
In 2014, Marissa “Roo” Pummill’s life and memory was kept alive when her mother, Kellye Pummill, decided to donate her daughter’s organs. Roo was an animal lover, a compassionate person, and her sense of empathy lives on through her gift of donation. Thanks to Roo, six transplant recipients received the phone call they had been desperately waiting for. Kellye and her dog Ozzy joined Donor Network of Arizona (DNA) at Donate Life Day at the Capitol on March 24, as a way to honor her daughter and keep her memory alive.
DNA holds this annual Donate Life Day at the Capitol event to allow people who have been directly impacted by donation to speak to their state senators and representatives about this vital lifesaving gift that provides a silver lining in a moment of tragedy. Donor family members, living donors and transplant recipients joined us for a luncheon after meeting with their legislators and bonded through their personal experiences with donation. Donation truly changes countless lives, and we’re so grateful for opportunities to help this community connect and make a difference.
Mark Larson is one of the people whose life was changed, and he is more than willing to share his story with those who listen. Mark has been to four Donate Life Days at the Capitol, and says that it is important for organ recipients like him to share how their lives changed after receiving the gift of life, and to thank legislators for their support of donation.
“All the legislators have been receptive, and there seems to be a positive ambiance [at the meetings],” says Mark. “This shows the importance of educating the legislators about the value of donation.”
DNA created a garden of life on the Senate lawn, showcasing the stories of donors, recipients and others affected by donation. These beautiful posters served as a visual reminder of the importance of donation for all who attended Donate Life Day at the Capitol.
March 11 is National Funeral Professionals Appreciation Day. Sometimes called the “last responders,” funeral home professionals are there at the end of someone’s life to guide each family.
Donor Network of Arizona (DNA) partners with funeral homes across the state to ensure that we honor everyone’s end-of-life decisions, including organ, eye and tissue donation.
We’re so grateful for our funeral home partners that support donation. They put families first, honoring their values and beliefs of helping others in need. We thank them for all they do to help make donation happen for so many.
Can organ, eye and tissue donors still have an open-casket funeral?
Yes! Donor Network of Arizona works closely with funeral homes to ensure that organ, eye and tissue donation does not alter funeral arrangements, including the option of an open casket service.
Throughout the entire donation process, the donor and donor family are treated with dignity and respect. This includes holding a moment of silence, and sometimes reading words prepared by the family, before recovery starts in an operating room. After recovery, the team performs a restorative process.
How can funeral homes partner with Donor Network of ARizona?
Thank you to all of the funeral professionals who care for donor families, and honor donors and their legacy of generosity. Thank you for being champions of the Donate Life mission and supporting organ, eye and tissue donation.
Are you a funeral home professional who wants to show your support for the lifesaving and healing gifts of organ, eye and tissue donation? Are you looking for education and resources about the donation process? Reach out to us!
To make a referral for organ, tissue or eye donation, please call 1-800-447-9477.
For National Kidney Month 2022, the National Kidney Foundation (NKF) asks you to take five steps to support your kidney health.
The kidney is a vital organ. It’s shaped just like a kidney bean, hence the shared name. Its function is to filter and remove waste and extra fluid from the body, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Kidney Disease. In fact, it’s happening in your body right now. Healthy kidneys can filter about half a cup (roughly 120 mL) of blood every minute, and send any unnecessary stuff out of the body through urine.
The kidneys also create more red blood cells, help to control blood pressure, and strengthen our bones. It really illustrates just how intertwined the functions of different organs can be. So, what happens when someone has kidney disease or kidney failure?
What happens with kidney disease or kidney failure?
If less than 15% of your kidney functions properly, that’s considered kidney failure. At this point, the patient would need some type of dialysis treatment to filter waste in the blood, and to talk to a medical professional about the possibility of a kidney transplant.
In fact, of the more than 106,000 people on the national organ waiting list, about 85% of them need a donated kidney to extend their life. There are even more who need both a kidney and pancreas transplant, often related to severe diabetic complications.
You can offer them hope by registering as an organ, eye and tissue donor now on DonateLifeAZ.org. If you’re interested in being a living kidney donor, you can contact one of Arizona’s organ transplant centers directly.
How to support your kidney health
So, what does the National Kidney Foundation suggest to support your kidney health? Here are the five steps they’re asking you to take this month.
- Screen for organ function: A simple urine or blood test can reveal how well your kidneys are working. It’s often done when you do any lab work, such as a biometric screen, through your primary care physician.
- Cut back on pain medications: NSAIDs, otherwise known as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, are great for common pains, such as a headache. They’re not so great for your kidneys.
- Keep processed foods away: Often, processed foods, such as breakfast cereal, hotdogs and lunch meats, and frozen meals, have high levels of sodium, phosphates or nitrates. These are linked to cancer, and they put a strain on your kidneys to get rid of those elements. NKF recommends learning about the DASH diet.
- Manage blood pressure and diabetes: These two issues are the leading cause of kidney failure. Keeping blood pressure and sugar levels in a healthy range can slow the progression of kidney disease.
- No surprise here! Stay active: Kidneys respond to exercise. At least 30 minutes of physical activity each day supports your entire physical and mental health. Exercise specifically helps with No. 4 too.
For more information, we invite you to visit NKF’s website for other resources about National Kidney Month and your kidney health in general.
Feb. 14 is most well known as Valentine’s Day, but here at Donor Network of Arizona, we like to celebrate National Donor Day and Valventine’s Day!
We recognize the wonderful gift of heart and heart valve donation. In 2021, 396 heart valves were donated, and more than 60 heart transplants were completed in Arizona alone.
Additionally, according to United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), there were a record-breaking 40,000 transplants in a single year. That is an amazing record to achieve, and it’s all thanks to the generosity of donors and their families, the hard work of health care staff, and countless other people involved in the donation and transplantation journey.
Just one National Donor Day certainly does not seem enough, but we want to extend our gratitude and celebrate all of the amazing donors who have changed countless lives and futures. Organ, eye and tissue donors share the gift of life with others, which is possibly the most priceless and selfless gift there is. For many of these recipients, and their families, donation is the only thing that gives them hope to have the future they deserve and so desperately wish for. When you choose to register as a donor, you are allowing someone to dream of a life that goes beyond hospital or dialysis walls, and live a life that comes with freedom and opportunity.
Love comes from the (donated) heart
One of these grateful recipients is Malaya Soares. Her family learned early on in her young life just how important this gift would be. Malaya was born with dilated cardiomyopathy, a heart condition that prevents her from having proper blood flow. This prevented Malaya from experiencing things that any other child might be able to do.
Malaya carries the same mutated gene as her mother, Mia Welch, who is a heart recipient herself. While sharing this disease strengthened the bond between the mother and daughter duo, it also meant that Mia knew just how vital it would be for Malaya to get a new heart as quickly as possible.
Luckily, after 14 long days of waiting, Mia got the call that they had a heart ready for Malaya. Now, Malaya has a new heart and is a healthy, happy and smart little girl.
Malaya’s future would be uncertain if it was not for her amazing donor and their choice to give her the gift of a bright future.