CROWN POINT | Linda Belcher has seen both sides of organ donation, the happy and the heartbreaking.
At 7 years old, her son Casey Belcher received a heart transplant. When he died last year at 19 of heart disease, he was able to give back the gift he had been given by choosing to be an organ and tissue donor. Belcher said the selflessness of a stranger's donation gave her 12 extra years with Casey.
"Those were the best 12 years of my life," Belcher said.
Belcher, an EMS educator at Franciscan St. Anthony Crown Point, told her son's story Thursday morning at a ceremony at the hospital to celebrate National Donate Life Month, joining other Northwest Indiana hospitals in honoring organ and tissue donors.
Indiana University Health La Porte and Starke hospitals work with the Indiana Organ Procurement Organization and Indiana Lions Eye Bank and display educational information throughout the month, said spokeswoman Danielle Gingerich. She said at IU Health La Porte Hospital last year, there were 10 tissue donors who helped hundreds of people and 32 cornea donors who helped 64 people.
Also this month, Porter Health System celebrated being one of only four hospitals in the state, and the only hospital in Northwest Indiana to receive a Silver Award for organ donation performance from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said spokeswoman Karen Keltner. She said the award was based on national hospital performance data from Oct. 1, 2008, to March 31.
At Thursday's ceremony, Dr. John King, vice president of medical affairs at St. Anthony, said the hospital displays a Donate Life flag for 48 hours after an organ or tissue is donated at the hospital. That practice is mirrored at Community Hospital, St. Catherine Hospital and St. Mary Medical Center, where families also receive a card with a smaller version of the flag as a keepsake.
The Community Healthcare System hospitals were recognized as a 2010 Lifesaving partner by the Gift of Hope Organ and Tissue Donor Network. Every day this month the hospitals will fly the Donate Life flag, and St. Catherine Hospital, 4321 Fir St., will host a flag blessing ceremony at 2 p.m. Wednesday.
"The person that saved my life truly was a stranger," said Linda Ramos, who received a pancreas transplant in 2003. "She saved a family and she saved a life."