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Organ Donors, Families Honored At Avera

Kealey Bultena

People grieving the loss of family members this holiday season are finding comfort in others who’ve experienced loss. Families and friends of people who chose to donate organs before they died connected at an event to honor and remember.

Leaders at Avera hold a program and prayer before talking with people who knew someone who died and chose to donate his or her organs.

Jonah Hilbert died in April at age 31 after struggling with alcoholism. He was still able to donate tissue and his corneas.

His mom Melody Hilbert says she finds comfort in talking with people who’ve endured similar pain because they don’t seem like strangers.

"I went to a parent group, and when I left that, how I felt was, ‘They know. They get how I feel. They understand, because they lost a child,’" Hilbert says. "And it doesn’t matter how old your child is when you lose them; it’s hard. It’s very hard."

Hilbert’s son Jonah is one of the new faces on Avera’s Wall of Heroes. It’s a space in the hospital displaying photos and stories about organ donors.

LifeSource hospital liaison Cary Wencil says the wall proves that organ donation is personal.

"I tell you, I walk by that wall just about every day, and just about every day there is someone stopping there, seeing the pictures scroll by, reading the tributes about that person," Wencil says. "And, when they leave, I hope they’re thinking, ‘Well, that’s something that I want to do if the opportunity comes."

Wencil says donating organs, corneas, or tissue doesn’t dull the pain of losing a loved one, but he says families can find some good in a final gift.

Wencil says South Dakotans can indicate their wish to be organ donors on their driver’s licenses, and that's enough. He says people can also register online.

"I say that because that's fairly new. South Dakota was the last state in the US to get an online donor registry. So now that we have it, we saw a huge increase in the number of donors - just astronomical," Wencil says. "I'm very excited to tell people that you don't have to wait years before your driver’s license time to renew it; you can go online and register right now."

Visit the online donor registry at this link. You can hear more about Jonah Hilbert and the legacy of organ donation with SDPB's feature airing on Dakota Midday.