Jada Mayon choked back tears as she said that Sunday would have been her daughter Dru's 14th birthday, listing the people whose lives were bettered or saved by Dru's organ donation after she died from a brain aneurysm.
Mayon was the first of several people who gave speeches attesting to both sorrow and joy Sunday afternoon at St. Louis Cathedral about their experiences as either organ recipients or families of organ donors, remembering those whose deaths gave hope to the living.
The "Celebration of Life" event was the first of its kind that Donate Life Louisiana has hosted. The alliance of organ donation groups held the nondenominational service to kick off Donor Awareness Month, which begins in April, said Lana Stevens, spokeswoman for the Louisiana Organ Procurement Agency.
"We always do awareness events, and we wanted to do something this year in thanksgiving, " Stevens said.
Mayon said deciding Dru should be an organ donor after her death helped their family "along the path of healing."
Jamie Napolitano, a heart recipient, spoke about her life with heart disease. After she had twins, nothing hurt more than being too weak to hold them and wondering whether she would live to see them start kindergarten, she said. Getting a transplant gave her the life she had begun to think she could never have.
"I've never been healthier since my heart transplant, " Napolitano said. "I had lived with heart disease my whole life, so I never knew how life could be until my heart worked like it should. I was finally able to be an involved mother, sister, daughter, wife, friend."
Cheryl McGee-Hills talked about how she decided she wanted to work at an organ donation institute after one of her family members became an organ donor for her husband. Margaret Fanning and Joe Rosolino spoke of how their lives changed when they received new organs.
Louis Jimerson, 62, sat in the congregation after hearing about the service from his pastor. Jimerson said he needs a kidney transplant and has been on the list for one for seven years. Still, he said he still has hope that one day it'll be the "right time" for him to get his transplant.
Donate Life Louisiana's mission is to encourage residents to register as organ and tissue donors and cites that about 1,800 Louisiana residents are waiting for organ transplants.
According to Ochsner's Multi-Organ Transplant Institute, transplant surgeons are called in only after all efforts to save a life have been exhausted. Anyone who wants to be an organ donor but hasn't registered as one at the Office of Motor Vehicles can do so at Donate Life's website,www.donatelifela.org.