Margie Madden says her daughter, Michele Lyn Sanford, was so excited when on her birthday, April 25, she signed up to be an organ donor while at the Secretary of State's Office.
Sadly, "two weeks later she was the gift," Madden, of Midland, said.
On May 10, Sanford, 48, fell over in the locker room of St. Mary's Hospital in Saginaw, where she worked, and died of a brain aneurysm.
"She had just called HR at the hospital to get some time off so she could go visit her brother," Madden said. "She loved to help people and animals. She had a great sense of humor and always was getting her group at work to be happy."
Madden was among donor family members and organ donation recipients who joined Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, Rep. Joel Johnson, R-Clare, and other luminaries for the Organ Transplant Support Group's 12th annual Rose Bush Planting Ceremony at Bay Regional Medical Center in Bay City.
Madden, like others who have experienced the heart-wrenching pain of having loved ones' lives tragically cut short, takes a measure of solace in knowing her daughter's gift of life is helping people in desperate need.
"Michelle's lungs went to a 46-year-old," Madden said, adding that other organs of her daughter have been transplanted to other patients as well. "I want to help create awareness of the Gift of Life."
Johnson, who calls herself a major advocate of organ donations, has made the cause a priority of her administration. Among other measures she's enacted to increase the number of donor registrations in a state that ranks among the bottom nationally, Johnson has her clerks in Secretary of State Offices asking customers if they'd like to register. Less than one-third of Michigan's adult population are currently registered, officials said.
"We've seen about 25 percent increase in donor registrations since we've implemented this new policy," Johnson said. "I'm proud of the partnership the Secretary of State office has with the Gift of Life. This rosebush ceremony is a heartwarming event."
Johnson said her office is using Facebook and Twitter in an effort to reach a younger audience.
"It's important that we get young people involved," she said.
Michigan's organ donation partners commended Johnson for her leadership role in helping save lives.
"With one seemingly simple act, Secretary Johnson has opened the doors for Michigan residents to save and improve countless lives," said Lisa Langley, executive director of the Michigan Eye-Bank.
"It's one of our top goals," Johnson said of her donor registration campaigns. "We have about 3,000 people in Michigan on a waiting list for organ transplants."
Holly Werlein was a healthy, athletic 21-year-old in 2006 when she was enroute to the Cleveland Clinic for what she described as a routine medical appointment. A week and a half later she woke up, lucky to be alive, with a "liver transplant and a whole new life," Werlein said.
On the way to the Cleveland Clinic, her sister noticed that Holly's eyes were yellow.
"I was nauseated and tired but I thought it was no big deal. I was 21-years-old.
After being examined by a neurologist, Werlein was told her liver enzymes were drastically raised.
"Mine were in the 2000s and were supposed to be in the teens. I found out I had a 20 percent functioning liver."
She was quickly placed on a top-priority donor list and, in what Werlein said was nothing short of miraculous, a match was found within eight hours.
"I was in ICU and would have died," she said. "It was a God-given miracle. My passion is to spread awareness and save lives. I believe that's why I'm here."
Today Werlein, Gaylord High School's Female Athlete of the Year in 2003, is healthy enough to compete in athletic contests. She returned home in June from the World Transplant Games in Sweden having won a bronze medal in the 50-meter butterfly, one of many medals she has earned at the competition over the past few years.
"Everything's been good since the transplant," she said.
Monica Janes said her entire family is involved with the Gift of Life.
"I'm a donor Mom," she said, a reference to losing her son, Jamie Janes, in a car accident shortly after he graduated from Marlette High in 2007.
"Two weeks later Jamie was headed to Marine training in Saginaw when he was hit head-on by a drunk driver," Janes said. "At 6:30 in the morning. He was a very giving person and being a donor gives him the opportunity to carry on his dream of helping others. I remember how wonderful he felt the first time he gave blood."
Many of Jamie Janes' organs have been transplanted, including his corneas.
"One is in New York and one is in California. Our family jokes that now Jamie is able see the country for free like he always wanted to," Monica Janes said, smiling.
Last year in Michigan, 790 transplant operations were performed. Officials note that each organ donor has the potential to save eight lives and enhance the lives of as many as 50 patients.
The rose bush ceremony takes place at a different hospital or medical center each year as a way to heighten awareness for organ donation. Johnson said a new campaign, Restart the Heart, has just been launched to generate more donors.
"The Secretary of State and her employees play a critical role in the donation and transplantation process," said Richard Pietroski, CEO of Gift of Life Michigan, the state's organ and tissue recovery program. "We're extremely grateful for their support."