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Donor and Recipient Family Testimonials at Ceremony for Donate Life Month
April 01, 2024

St. Luke’s Bethlehem Campus will mark National Donate Life Month, April 3, with testimonials by families who have experienced organ donation from each side, a candle-lighting and a flag-raising ceremony to honor organ, eye and tissue donors and raise awareness about how donation can improve or save lives.

The ceremony will begin at 9 am in the Priscilla Payne Hurd Education Center (PPHC), Lecture Room 1, at the Bethlehem Campus. Two local mothers who will describe their family's experiences with organ donation and transplantation.

National Donate Life Month is held every April to raise awareness of the critical need for donors and encourage everyone to register as an organ, tissue and cornea donor. In the U.S., 100,000 persons are awaiting a lifesaving transplant, 5,000 of them in the Lehigh Valley region alone.

The Mothers’ Stories

Bethlehem resident Donna Mains will recount how her late 23-year-old son, Gavin Zaun, who had chosen to be an organ donor, died unexpectedly from complications of Type 1 diabetes on April 30 three years ago. “Luckily they could use most of his organs,” she said.  

The long-time St. Luke’s staff member in the Maternal-Fetal Medicine program will explain how this heart-wrenching loss impacted her family and describe the positive side for them and others like them who become donor families.

“I think a lot of people know what organ donation does for the person who needs an organ, but it’s also blessing for the donor family, because that is the one positive that came out of this, and it gives us something to focus on that’s positive.” 

Her son’s liver, kidneys and lungs were removed for donation at St. Luke’s—also where he was born—and transplanted among three recipients. Mains accidently met the woman, “Michelle,” from New Jersey who received his liver and kidneys at a Gift of Life event. She and Michelle will be doing the Gift of Life walk together on April 28. Mains and her family have been in touch with the man who has her son’s lungs and hope to meet him. 

“Knowing that someone benefitted from Gavin’s untimely death helps keep his memory alive,” said Mains, whose husband also will attend the event.

Stephanie Schuyler, CRNP, of Easton, will detail the challenging medical and emotional journey her family is on having two children, Molly and Benjamin, ages 6 and 7 respectively, who already are kidney transplant recipients. Their third child, the youngest age 1, Oliver, will need a kidney in the near future.

Schuyler and her husband carry the recessive genes for a congenital renal disease, congenital nephrotic syndrome, which poses only a 25% chance of being passed on, yet all of their children are afflicted with the illness.

“We are so fortunate for the Gift of Life program, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (where the kidneys are transplanted) and the selfless donors who have given life and hope to our children on this ‘wild journey,’” said Schuyler, who is a critical care nurse practitioner at St. Luke’s and has had to speak with families about organ donation when their loved one is dying or deceased. Her husband and children will attend the ceremony, as well.

St. Luke’s emergency medicine and critical care physician, Jennifer Axelband, DO, will welcome attendees and participants, describe St. Luke’s culture of organ donation and thank the Gift of Life for their service to the donors and recipients. Tables will be set up for recruitment of organ donors.

The flag-raising ceremony is part of a national initiative by Donate Life America to raise awareness and encourage Americans to register as organ, eye and tissue donors and celebrate those who have saved lives through the gift of donation. St. Luke’s campuses will be bathed in blue and green external flood lights on April 12 to call attention to the need for organ donations.