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Donate Life Month

Donate Life Month: Honor Walks Help Donor Families Celebrate the Gift of Life

Mountain View, CA — April 15, 2022 — April is National Donate Life Month. In 2021, Donor Network West helped coordinate 1,156 organ transplants from 390 organ donors across Northern California and Northern Nevada. One of those donors included a loved one of an El Camino Health employee.

"She was very funny, very kind and very opinionated — but she was so intelligent that, usually, she was right," said Paul Williams, a technical specialist in respiratory medicine. "We leaned on each other for a lot of things and I appreciate how much she loved our family. She would light up any room she was in."

As someone who works in respiratory medicine, Paul spends each day in the intensive care unit (ICU) at El Camino Health’s hospital in Mountain View.

"When you work in the ICU, you learn to develop coping mechanisms in order to function," said Paul. "However, having a loved one there was tough, so I tried to take the lead for my family."

Though Paul was doing his best to be strong, nothing can prepare anyone for the loss of a family member. His loved one passed away in December 2021. Although Paul and his family were navigating through incredible grief, they knew they had to deliver on their family member's wish to be an organ donor. She was one of 17 million Californians on the organ donor registry. Donor Network West, the federally designated organ procurement organization (OPO) for Northern California and Northern Nevada, stepped in to walk Paul's family through the process of donating her organs.

"There was a moment when they came in and I thought to myself, 'no, please not yet,' because that's when we realized she was gone, and it was time," he recalled. "But they were very gracious and took great care of us. They gave us the space to grieve and talk and mourn, and they were clear about where our loved one’s gifts would be going. They went above and beyond."

As Paul and his family prepared to say goodbye to one of their own, dozens of El Camino Health employees lined up in the hall for an honor walk, taking a moment out of their busy days to pay their respects as she was wheeled from the ICU to the operating room for organ recovery. Honor walks are a ceremonial event to commemorate patients who give the gift of life.

"I think this was something she would have wanted," said Paul. "For me personally, it was a reminder that she could help someone else live, and that is huge."

So far, Paul's loved one has helped save four lives. Her heart went to Sacramento, and her liver and kidneys were also placed. Paul and his family hope to meet some of the organ recipients in the future with assistance from Donor Network West.

"At Donor Network West, we aim to provide the highest level of service and support to our donor families," said Janice Ford Goins, a donation program consultant at Donor Network West, who works closely with El Camino Health. "We stay in touch with families for at least one year after the passing of their loved one, provide grief support, offer information on the donation outcome and facilitate correspondence between families and recipients."

According to Donor Network West, one donor can save up to eight lives through organ donation, and heal up to another 75 lives through tissue donation. Anyone can register to be a donor and provide hope to those waiting for a second chance at life. To register as a donor, visit Donate Life California.