Organ Donors

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COLUMBIA -The month of April is national "Donate Life" month. Friday, a group of organ donor and organ recipient families gathered to honor those who have given the gift of life.

More than 100 people crowded in the University Hospital lobby to decorate paper roses with the names of their family members who have donated their organs. The families left behind received real roses, as they read their family member's name and put the paper flower on a display. 

Many people say they consider other donor families and organ recipients to be their own familiy members.

"It's like an invisible bond, I feel their joy and I feel their pain," said Ron Walkenbach.

Walkenbach has received four cornea transplants, and says he's grateful that he was been able to finish his education and watch his children and grandchildren grow up.

Donna Thompson lost her 80 year old father after he suffered a bad fall. Even at 80 years old, he was able to donate his liver. Thompson says she gets comfort from events like Friday's Donate Life ceremony, and joy knowing it brings awareness to the community.

"If everyone would give the gift of life there's other pople who would live longer, have families, and maybe do what God's called them to do," said Thompson. 

Through organ and tissue donations, Debra Simaitis' 23 year old daughter saved three lives, and helped 103.

"She truly truly made a difference in the world," said Simaitis.

One hundred and six thousand people in the United States are waiting for organ donations, of that group, more than 2,000 are Missourians.

To find out how you can become an organ donor, visit the Midwest Transplant Network website at