2023 - February - Gazette - Organ Donation

By: Jackie Naginey Hook
Friday, February 24, 2023

Organ Donation

Full circle moments sometimes surprise us.

Breanne Radin Yeckley is a funeral director at Koch Funeral Home who, during her college years, played soccer at Gannon University in Erie. During the first pre-season game of her senior year, she hurt her foot. Determined to achieve the best possible results for her team, she used lots of athletic tape to wrap her foot and ankle and finished out a strong senior season. However, after the season she ran in a Turkey Trot 5K race and recognized that she needed medical intervention.

Breanne met with an orthopedic surgeon who ordered tests and quickly determined surgery was necessary, except the surgery ended up being much more complicated than anticipated. When Breanne awoke from surgery the doctor explained that he had needed to place a piece of donated cadaver bone in her foot. Grateful for the gift from another human, Breanne welcomed this allograft in her body. She named the bone Oscar, like the Sesame Street character, because he was a little grumpy at first. At the one-year mark, Breanne celebrated Oscar’s birthday.

After college graduation, Breanne enrolled in mortuary science school. It was then that she had a full circle moment. She was not only the recipient of someone’s tissue donation, but she was now learning to give back to donors by caring for their bodies after their donations.

Today at Koch Funeral Home, Breanne uses that same determined spirit to provide respectful and modest care for donors, as well as other deceased individuals, when she prepares them for whatever visitation, funeral, and disposition choices they and their families have made.

One of the first needs of a mourner is to accept the reality of the death. Viewing the deceased’s body is a step towards that acceptance. Plus, if cremation is the chosen form of disposition, identification of the body is imperative. This means Breanne and the other funeral directors, F. Glenn Fleming, John “Jay” Herrington and Katie Monsell, and funeral director-in-training, Jenny Miller, will prepare the deceased for viewing.

Much of the work of a funeral director is done behind real and metaphorical closed doors. Doors most people don’t want to open. The care funeral directors provide involves details they don’t share. And that’s okay with the rest of us, right? When we’re pleased with the end result, we don’t want to know how they performed their “magic.”

The “magic” is what funeral directors are trained to do. It is individualized according to the condition of the bodies and the choices made by the families. In the case of donor bodies, the funeral directors’ “magic” can be quite involved, but something families never know or see.

In the case of donors, funeral directors work can also be quite involved because more steps and people are a part of the process before the donor is transferred into the funeral home’s care. The organ procurement organization (OPO), transplant center, transportation providers, doctors, and others all do their work first.   

Koch Funeral Home works primarily with two donor options. Humanities Gift Registry and Gift of Life Donor Program. Humanities Gift Registry is a non-profit that facilitates whole body donations for medical education and research in Pennsylvania. In our area, most of the donations go to the Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey.

Gift of Life Donor Program is a non-profit that coordinates organ and tissue donation across the eastern half of Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, and Delaware. It is actually the largest OPO in the United States and has led the U.S. in lifesaving organ donations for 15 years.  

According to Gift of Life Donor Program, one organ donor can donate their kidneys, pancreas, liver, lungs, heart, and intestines and save up to eight lives. One tissue donor can donate bone, skin, heart valves, and corneas and help the lives of more than 100 people.

Because only about 2.5 percent of all patients die in a manner that allows for the possibility of organ donation, Koch Funeral Home serves more tissue than organ donors.  But that doesn’t mean people in our area aren’t willing to be organ donors. Centre County has a 60% designation rate, the highest in the Gift of Life Donor Program’s region. Average national donor designation rates are around 50%.

Since February 14 was National Donor Day and April is National Donate Life Month, it’s a great time to consider designating yourself as an organ and tissue donor. There is no age limit or medical condition that will preclude you. The transplant team determines if a donation is possible at the time of death. 100,00 people in our country are waiting for an organ transplant and 17 people die each day while waiting.

Just as Breanne carries a lot of gratitude for the organ and tissue donation process. others I’ve worked with carry immense gratitude for being a part of the experience, on both the donor and recipient sides. There are more full circle moments waiting out there for other grateful donors and recipients.

And if you want to look for gratitude and information on your grief journey, you are invited to the following upcoming education and support gatherings.

  • Monday’s Moments Virtual Gathering on Mondays, March 13 and April 3 from noon to 1:30 p.m..
  • Grief Healing Circle on Wednesdays, March 8 and April 12 from 6:00 to 7:00 p.m. on Zoom.
  • Monday’s Moments at Schlow Library on Mondays, March 27 and April 17 from noon to 1:30 p.m. at Schlow Library, 211 S. Allen Street, State College.
  • Death Café Virtual Gathering on Monday, March 20 and April 17 from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. on Zoom.
  • Stories of Loss on Tuesdays, March 28 through April 18 from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. at Juniper at Brookline, 1950 Cliffside Drive, State College.
  • A Walk with Grief - A Centre Region Parks & Recreation Program on Tuesdays, April 4 through May 9 from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. at local parks. Register on www.CRPR.org.

For more information, please visit the Bereavement Gatherings and Events page on the Koch Funeral Home website. To reserve your spot and receive the invitation links, email Jackie@JackieHook.com, call 814-237-2712 or visit the Koch Funeral Home Facebook page @kochFH.

Jackie Naginey Hook, MA, is a spiritual director, celebrant and end-of-life doula.  She coordinates the Helping Grieving Hearts Heal program through Koch Funeral Home in State College.  For more information, please call 814-237-2712 or visit www.kochfuneralhome.com.


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