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Flag Raising Ceremony Commemorates National Donate Life Month

 St. Francis Medical Center raises awareness for organ donation

Flag Raising Ceremony 2
Flag Raising Ceremony 3

St. Francis Medical Center held a Flag Raising Ceremony to commemorate National Donate Life Month in April and to inspire people to register as organ donors. In unison with OneLegacy, Southern California’s organ, eye and tissue recovery organization, St. Francis has facilitated hundreds of organ donations. As it raised the Donate Life flag, the hospital raised community awareness for organ donation.

St. Francis’ Chief Nursing Officer Marilou Salao opened the ceremony, emphasizing that the flag raising observance focuses national attention on the need for organ, eye, and tissue donation and the importance of registering to be a donor. Donate Life Month honors living donors and those who have passed, and it celebrates the lives saved through organ donation gifts.

Salao said, “Organ donation honors and upholds the dignity of life and aligns with our mission. St. Francis is a committed supporter of organ donation, and our commitment reflects the importance and value that our doctors, nurses, leaders, and staff place on every life in our care.”

Salao shared how organ donation touches the hearts and emotions of caregivers, staff, and patient’s family members.  One of the ways the hospital expresses the range of feelings that can accompany organ donation — sadness, loss, gratitude, hope – is through an Honor Walk. St. Francis Medical Center’s Honor Walks call together the St. Francis team and gives them the opportunity to pay a final tribute to patients who have chosen to gift their organs to others in need.  As a patient is taken up to surgery to give the ultimate gift of life, staff from departments throughout the hospital line the hallway to acknowledge and honor the life and legacy of the donor. 

“It is a time when the healthcare team can quietly and humbly express our gratitude to the patient and family members for their priceless and selfless gift,” said Salao. “It is a powerful and moving moment when we as humans share a connection with the patient and the patient’s family members in recognizing the sanctity of life.”

Organ donation involves the collaboration of departments across the hospital, including Emergency, Trauma, ICU, Respiratory Therapy, Surgery, Spiritual Care, Case Management, Social Services, among others. Each was recognized at the ceremony, along with the hospital’s OneLegacy representatives.

Javier Munoz, OneLegacy Donation Development Manager, thanked St. Francis for its nearly 60-year partnership and highlighted some key statistics.

There are currently 104,000 people on the national waiting list for an organ, with 20% of those being Californians. Through its organ donation support, St. Francis saved 48 lives in 2021, 10 lives in 2022, and 16 lives year-to-date in 2023. The gift of sight was given to 21 individuals in 2021, 35 in 2022, and 4 so far this year. Over the last four years, St. Francis has had the honor of caring for 32 organ donors.

Illuminating the impact of organ donation was OneLegacy Ambassador Jolene Vargas, a three-time kidney recipient who recounted the physical and emotional ups and downs of being a recipient-in-waiting, and the full life she has been blessed to lead because of her three donors.

St. Francis Director of Spiritual Care Brother Richard Hirbe offered a blessing as the Donate Life flag was raised by the hospital’s Public Safety team, saying in part, “Sacred scripture reminds us that there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for their brother and sister, and so we raise our Donate Life flag on this hallowed ground at Prime St. Francis Medical Center. We acknowledge, honor, and give our profound thanks to those donors, our heroes and saints, who have made the decision to love by giving the gift of life through organ donation.”

He went on to recognize the families of donors who, in the midst of their grief, made the choice to turn their tragedy into a blessing, and the countless recipients who champion organ donation and give support and hope to those waiting to receive the gift of life.

CEO Clay Farell closed the ceremony with his own personal story. Organ donation became a real part of his family when a younger cousin’s life was unexpectedly cut short. Amidst their sorrow, his family found solace in his cousin’s decision to donate his organs. It brought home for him that organ donation is a powerful and moving act that inspires a human connection and acknowledges the gift and sanctity of life.

Farell said, “Our commitment to supporting organ donation is one of the ways we come together as a community. It unites caregivers and staff, donors, recipients, and families. Our mission is to deliver compassionate, quality care to patients and better healthcare to communities.  Through our support of organ donation, we uphold the dignity and respect of patients, helping to ensure that they and their families have the chance to make self-directed decisions about their care, their bodies, and their quality of life; and in turn, we create for others the opportunity to experience improved health and renewed life.”