Candlelight March

Tom O’Brien
Transplanted November 11, 1999
Second Wind St. Louis
June, 2006

The 21st annual Candlelight March was held Thursday April 20th at the World’s Fair Pavilion in Forest Park. The event was sponsored by St. Louis University Hospital, SSM Cardinal Glennon Medical Center and Mid America Transplant Services. Carol Daniel from KMOX radio was the Grand Marshal and conducted the ceremony in a sometimes solemn and often times light hearted manner. She made us understand that the event was to celebrate life not to mourn.

The event sponsors provided food, soft drinks and commemorative T-shirts. Everything was organized very well and the Saint Louis weather cooperated beautifully. Chilly, rainy weather has hampered some past events but Thursday night was different. Clear skies, temperatures in the low 70s and low humidity. All in all a great night for a walk and a chance to visit with organ donor families and recipients. The focus was on families of organ donors and after the walk their names were read aloud and the families were asked to come forward and light a candle in remembrance of their loved ones. They also were presented a single yellow rose by a young girl who had received a liver transplant only one month before the event. After the donor families came forth, friends of donors, then recipients, and finally those awaiting transplant were invited to come down and light a candle also.

I received a bilateral lung transplant six and one half years ago so at the prodding of my wife Jenni (who has been prodding me for over 25 years) I went forward and lit a candle in honor of a young man named Jason who had let his family know if anything happened to him he wanted to be an organ donor. I was glad to have the chance to show him how much I appreciated his gift to me and the many others he helped by his decision.

We had a chance to meet several recipients among the many present. One family I talked with told me of their father who had received a kidney 18 months ago. He had been on dialysis for more than 2 years and the procedure was becoming less effective as time passed. Eventually he was told by his doctors that he had only 2 weeks left unless a donor could be found. The miracle happened just in time and he was transplanted. Normally that would be the end of the story but his donated organ did not function at first. The medical staff put him into a light coma for 21 days and finally the donated organ began to work. The family introduced me to him. His is healthy now and most thankful to his donor. He plans to attend the next walk and many more in the future. It was time for the walk by now so we shook hands and lined up. The attendance was great and a large procession was formed, led by a fellow playing bag pipes. We marched down the west steps toward Government Drive then across the expansive lawn in front of the Pavilion and back up the hill to where the ceremony was to be held. It felt good to be gathered together honoring the organ donor families.

After the lighting of the candles, prayers, inspirational talks by personnel from M.T.S. and after two songs, one performed by a member of M.T.S. and a song titled “That’s What Friends Are For” performed by Joy Nancy-Johnson, who is well known to most of the Second Wind members, we stayed for cake and more conversation. My wife was seated next to two sisters from Granite City IL who had attended all 21 of the Marches. Their family had a genetic condition that led to kidney failure in three of the five girls. The eldest donated a kidney to her sister 21 years ago! A perfect match no doubt as they are both living healthy lives to the fullest.

Meeting them was special, the night was special and I would like to share a couple other special things, one happened just 30 hours before we walked. Jenni and I were present for and helped with the delivery of our third grandchild on April 19th at 11:22 a.m. The gift of life that Jason gave me enabled me to attend our son’s wedding on July 28 2002. Also I walked our daughter down the aisle to be married on June 6th 2003. And I got to witness the birth of our first grandaughter Madison on April 29th 2004. Five days later our son’s wife Mary delivered our first grandson Thomas on May 4th 2004 and now baby Dean joins the clan.

Life is good and the gift of life is precious. I hope everyone reading this will get to have as joyous times as I have. It is because of organ donation. The Second Wind Organization along with the above mentioned sponsors make every effort to encourage organ donation and I hope you all will too.