PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Hundreds of people came together Sunday to remember loved ones who passed away but went on to save others through an organ transplant.
It’s called the Life and Legacy Celebration, and it was filled with stories of survival.
“I got very ill and I ended up in the ICU at the hospital of the University of Pennsylvania,” Peter Matthews, a donor recipient, said. “They told me my only chance at living was to get a transplant.”
For Matthews, a liver transplant he got five years ago through the Gift of Life donor program led him to one of the highest points in the world.
“I climbed to the top of Kilimanjaro,’ Matthews said. “I wanted to just let everyone know how important their donation is.”
For many of the families at the event, this is the first time they’re coming together in-person since the pandemic and it’s all meant to show support for the lives that they’ve lost while also celebrating donor recipients.
“We hope it’s an opportunity for them to remember their loved ones and to treat them as true heroes,” Richard Hasz, the Gift of Life CEO, said.
The mother of one of those heroes is Markita Lewis. She lost her 13 year old son, Marquis, to an asthma attack in 2014, and then made the difficult decision to donate his heart, liver and kidneys.
“Marquis saved three lives, and Gift of Life saved me because I really don’t know where I’d be without this platform,” Lewis said.
Lewis was able to meet those who received her son’s organs.
“Maybe three months after Marquis’ funeral, I received letters from all three of his recipients,” Lewis said. “It was really enlightening to know that all three were young men that were going to be able to enjoy their life.”
Matthews never had that chance. He doesn’t know who helped save his life, but has been in touch with that man’s family.
Now, he wants to remind families of donors that their loved ones live on.
“It never leaves me that I only got to see and do all of that because of what someone else did for me five years ago,” Matthews said.
Each donor was remembered through individual squares, making one big quilt to honor their life saving decision for others.