Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network honored 14 individuals, hospitals and health systems for outstanding achievement in addressing the critical need for organ and tissue donation in 2017 by presenting each with a Lifesaving Partners Award at a special recognition ceremony held on Friday, Oct. 13, at the Hyatt Lodge at McDonald’s Campus in Oak Brook, Ill.

“Our Lifesaving Partners Awards honor the ‘best of the best’ in organ and tissue donation — those people who and organizations that have gone above and beyond the call of duty to help make donation happen,” said Kevin Cmunt, Gift of Hope’s President/CEO. “These are dedicated people and organizations that set the standard — and so often surpass it — in making donation possible. Through their selfless work, we give hope and life to those in need of lifesaving organ and tissue transplants.”

Award recipients were nominated by Gift of Hope staff and selected by a review committee consisting of Gift of Hope management team members. Here are Gift of Hope’s 2017 Lifesaving Partners Award honorees:

Anne & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago: In 2016 Anne & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital and Gift of Hope recognized the need to collectively rebuild and strengthen the shared donation process. A donation committee was established, policies were updated, new education efforts and programs were implemented and champions across the hospital’s departments reinforced their commitments to create a culture of trust and open collaboration between the two organizations. This year, the organ donor and organs transplanted totals are more than the hospital’s totals for the previous five years combined.  Lurie Children’s Hospital and its remarkable staff members are a true testament to the hospital’s commitment to offer compassionate care for families.

Ponni Arunkumar, MD, Chief Medical Examiner, Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office, Chicago, Ill.:  Since her appointment as Chief Medical Examiner of Cook County in July 2016, Dr. Ponni Arunkumar has demonstrated her dedication and commitment to offering grieving families the opportunity to donate on behalf of deceased loved ones. Her remarkable commitment to donation has resulted in more than 550 organs transplanted and 2,000 tissues recovered from donors since her appointment.

Shashank Atre, PhD, Professor and Chair at Robert Morris University and Gift of Hope Interfaith Council Member:  Dr. Shashank Atre’s steadfast support of donation helped make a difference in the lives of transplant recipients and provides hope and healing to donor families. In 2017, he connected members from Gift of Hope with faculty and administrators at Robert Morris to help with marketing efforts to support the Drive for Life Act, which will allow 16- and 17-year-olds to register as organ and tissue donors. He also helps families of different faiths understand the donation process and provide support during this difficult time.

David Cimbaluk, MD, Assistant Professor of Pathology, Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, Ill.: Dr. David Cimbaluk has been committed to saving lives through organ donation for many years and is willing graciously step in whenever needed to help ensure efficient kidney placement. His dedication and open collaboration have had a major impact on the shared donation process, specifically regarding the reading of kidney biopsies performed on organ donors.

Edward F. Hollinger Jr., MD, PhD, Surgeon, Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, Ill.: As a long-standing and valued member of the Gift of Hope Advisory Council, Dr. Edward Hollinger provides guidance and insight into policy and operational changes that benefit all kidney recipients in Gift of Hope’s service area. With the increase in donation over the past five years, Gift of Hope frequently calls upon Dr. Hollinger to recover organs. He always answers the call, even then there is no direct benefit to his program – simply because he believes in honoring the gift of donation.

 Sayona John, MD, Medical Director of Neuroscience ICU, Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, Ill: Under Dr. Sayona John’s leadership, Rush University Medical Center is now one of Gift of Hope’s top hospitals in donor referrals, approaches and authorizations. She formed and chairs the Rush Donation Committee, for which she personally recruited hospital leadership from several departments to foster collaboration, review donation performance, and improve donation outcomes. Dr. John took on the charge as Course Director of Rush’s first Brain-Death Simulation Workshop, and event which exceeded expectations and helped provided advanced education about organ donation to colleagues, fellows and residents.

Eddie Johnson, Superintendent, Chicago Police Department, Chicago, Ill.: Upon the announcement of needing a lifesaving kidney transplant, Chicago’s beloved “Top Cop” has been an influential advocate for organ and tissue donation and a result of inspiration to may Chicago residents. In February 2017, Superintendent Eddie Johnson shared his story with attendees at Gift of Hope’s inaugural Chicago Organ Summit, but his support of donation did not stop there. He continued spreading the word on the importance of donor registration at various Gift of Hope events during National Donate Life Month in April. Superintendent Johnson’s courage in the face of uncertainty and his willingness to share his personal experience has undoubtedly helped save many lives.

Marty Lieberman, Chair, Community Currency Exchange Association of Illinois: Marty Lieberman helped provide Gift of Hope access to over 400 currency exchanges to reach and engage various communities about the need for minority donors. Through the CCEA, more than 125 donation awareness events took place, registering thousands of new donors. In 2017, Marty graciously added Gift of Hope’s logo to CCEAs 80th anniversary gift bag, which will be distributed to over 85,000 currency exchange customers. Lieberman has fostered a true partnership with Gift of Hope, one that will continue to grow for years to come and continue bringing ling-term benefits to the communities both organizations serve.

Travis Matics, MD, PICU Fellow, University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children’s Hospital, Chicago, Ill.: During a recent spike in pediatric donor referrals at Comer Children’s Hospital, Dr. Travis Matics was instrumental in producing successful donation outcomes on many of those cases. Pediatric donation cases area highly sensitive and difficult for everyone involved, but Dr. Matics encourages and supports timely donor referrals called in to Gift of Hope in a timely manner to help ensure that families can consider donation. He truly understands the difference organ and tissue donation can make in the lives of others and the glimmer of hope and comfort it can bring to grieving families.

Mercyhealth Hospital, Rockton Avenue PICU, Rockford, Ill.: For the past 10 years, Gift of Hope has had the privilege of working with the remarkable staff of the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Mercyhealth Hospital. Their dedicated support of organ and tissue donation is second only to the level of care and understanding

they offer the families they serve. From going the extra mile to provide open communication to support donor families to orchestrating changes to improve organ and tissue donation, this PICU demonstrates its care for donor families and its commitment to honoring the gift of donation.

Roberto Omar, CEO and co-founder, YO Group, Round Lake, Ill.: Roberto Omar truly values the long-term impact organ and tissue donation can have on minority groups. He has generously extended his professional connections to Gift of Hope to establish new partnerships and execute events to spread the donation message to new groups. In early 2017, with Omar’s help, Gift of Hope proudly sponsored “Hoy Despierto,” (Today I Awaken) a live music concert series put on by Siervas, a rock band featuring 11 nuns from the outskirts of Lima, Peru. The concert series attracted more than 5,000 Latinos from Chicago and the surrounding areas and was the perfect setting to provide the Hispanic Catholic audience with facts and information on the topic of donation.

Dan and Lisa RichardsonAmbassadors for Hope Volunteers, Gift of Hope: The Richardson have been part of the Gift of Hope family since their son Dylan passed away in 2007. For the past 10 years, they have been tireless advocates for organ and tissue donation serving as Ambassadors for Hope volunteers and giving a voice to donation at many events. Earlier in 2017, Dan held a fundraiser at his workplace to help increase donation awareness and raised more than $1,500, which he generously donated to Gift of Hope. The Richardson’s also lead the charge on impactful events like the assembly of the Gift of Hope Memory Boxes, which brings together donor family members and transplant recipients to assemble hundreds of keepsake boxes destined for future donor families.

University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children’s Hospital, PICU, Chicago, Ill.: The pediatric intensive care unit staff at University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children’s Hospital are committed to helping Gift of Hope offer the opportunity for organ and tissue donation to the families they serve. This commitment has led to the successful transplantation of 28 organs. The multidisciplinary approach the PICU staff members take to serving families shines through in their remarkable contributions to the shared donation process. This exemplary team comprises talented and dedicated physicians, nurses, social workers, child-life specialists, respiratory therapists, chaplains and ancillary staff.

Gwendolyn Westlund, Ambassador for Hope Volunteer, Gift of Hope: After surviving cancer and receiving a heart transplant, Gwendolyn “Gwen” Westlund founded an organization called Recycled Life Warriors, which advocates for blood, bone marrow and organ and tissue donation, and through her Twitter and Facebook accounts she engages with thousands of followers to share messages about the importance of organ and tissue donation. Westlund gives a voice to organ and tissue donation at schools, hospitals and churches to champion Gift of Hope’s mission and vision, and she does this while battling her own ongoing health issues.