1,500 Honor Donors at Candlelight Memorial Ceremony

Posted August 26, 2013 in News Category

Technology Brings Donor Daughter to Candlelight Memorial Ceremony

Penny Salvato stood to the right of the stage Sunday evening, along the edge of about 1,400 chairs at Highlands Park. With her elbows at a 90-degree angle, she carefully held her iPhone steady. On the phone’s screen was her niece, Ashlynn, and a tiny image of the stage at the Candlelight Memorial Ceremony.

Ashlynn’s mother, Stacey Kellebrew, tragically passed away in 2011. Stacey’s family made the selfless decision to donate her tissue and corneas. Stacey’s family was attending the Candlelight Memorial Ceremony – an annual memorial event hosted by Mid-America Transplant Services with Barnes-Jewish Hospital, Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center, St. Louis Children’s Hospital and Saint Louis University Hospital – to remember and honor her.

And for the second time, Ashlynn was unable to attend in person. She is a sophomore mass communications major at the University of Texas-Pan American in Edinburg, Texas. The fall semester began Monday at UT-PA. Ashlynn watched the ceremony through Penny’s phone and the Facetime app, which allows users to video conference between phones. “She was upset she couldn’t be here,” Penny said, “So I told her I would think about what I could do, and I said we could do Facetime or I could video tape it. We tried Facetime, and she was able to watch and participate from long distance.”

Visit our photo gallery for more images of the Candlelight Memorial Ceremony

Through her profession as a teacher, Penny helped another family participate remotely as well. One of her students passed away last year. With her experiences, she assisted the family as much as possible in the organ and tissue donation process. Penny had texted the mother of the student recently to see if she would be attending the Candlelight Memorial Ceremony, but never heard back.

2013clm-081masterGus Thornton

On Sunday, the mother let Penny know she wouldn’t be attending. “She said it would just be too hard,” Penny said. “So I asked if I could make a candle for him, and she said yes. So I made a candle for my student, and got her a rose. I’ll be able to deliver that to her at school Monday.”

Playing the Blues

Heart recipient Gus Thornton met his Donor Family earlier this year, but he didn’t want to miss the opportunity to express his gratitude to all Donor Families. “For me, it was an opportunity to thank everybody,” he said, “and show much I appreciate what they’ve done for me and all recipients.” 

A jazz musician from East St. Louis, Gus brought a few friends to perform before the ceremony. The group played a short set as guests decorated candles, children’s faces were painted with the Donate Life logo, and visitors enjoyed light refreshments. Gus’ band also closed the ceremony with a rendition of “Lean on Me.”

Saying ‘Thank you’  

Jen Guffey had planned on attending the Candlelight Memorial Ceremony the last couple years. But each year presented a challenge, either previous commitments or an illness for her son, Jax. He received a liver transplant at St. Louis Children’s Hospital before his first birthday. He was among 10 rose distributors, who gave a single rose to each Donor Family in attendance.  “What a great event to be a part of,” Jen said. “When we were asked to hand out roses, there was no doubt we wanted to be here. “


Dawn Manley took the opportunity to thank those who gave her a chance to continue the outdoor activities she enjoys, like training for a marathon and hiking. She received donor tendon in 2007 to repair an ankle injury. “I just wanted to show appreciation for the person who gave something that is maybe so little to someone else, but it’s so big for me,” she said. “I love hiking. I just hiked Pike’s Peak with my daughter. Without this, I would not have been able to do that. To be able to live a life the Lord has given me, there’s such appreciation and gratitude for the sacrifice that people have made to help me.”


2013clm-430When Dawn was asked to be a rose distributor, she decided to invite a neighbor who donated her husband’s organs. “She’s been wanting to come,” Dawn said. “I prayed about it, and when I was asked to hand out roses, I asked if she wanted to come. I can already see the healing in her. It would have been very hard for her to come to this alone.”


Jim Shoffstall is a paramedic for ARCH Air Medical Services. He received a kidney transplant through Saint Louis University Hospital’s living donor program. He gave Gift of Life roses to Donor Families during the ceremony. “This is such a wonderful gift I received,” he said. “I just want to share that and tell people their gifts and sacrifices are changing lives. I want to be an example of that.”

A few years ago, shortly after Arlene Thomas received a heart at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, her doctors suggested she attend a Candlelight Memorial Ceremony with her mother and family to see the Donor Families perspective. “We were all very touched, to see the other side. We’re the lucky ones,” she said. “I wouldn’t be here today without the donor. I wouldn’t get the opportunity to enjoy life and enjoy my grandchildren. (The Donor Families) had to give up a very important person in their lives.”

The Link to the Gift of Life

2013clm-327master300pxDr. Stuart Sweet, Professor of Pediatrics at Washington University and Medical Director of Pediatric Lung Transplant Program at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, thanked Donor Families, who allow him to help recipients.

Dr. Stuart Sweet, Professor of Pediatrics at Washington University and Medical Director of Pediatric Lung Transplant Program at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, spoke to the audience representing each of the transplant centers in St. Louis. He talked about the importance of the Donor Family. Before the ceremony, he shared his desire to thank the families who allow him to help recipients. “The Donors and their families are our silent partners,” he said. “They are the last link that’s needed to provide the gift of life. Any opportunity I have to reach out and say thanks to that important set of silent partners, I want to take advantage.”

“I really enjoy being in this environment, where all of the people who touch what I do for a living are together,” he added. “There is such an important connection between the transplant professionals, Mid-America Transplant Services, the Donor Families, and recipients. And the setting is so wonderful here with the Donor Memorial Monument.”

Masina Scavuzzo, a lung transplant coordinator at Barnes Jewish Hospital, has attended many donor memorial events to express her appreciation. “Seeing the courageous families that have, in a time of distress, given their loved one’s organs to help someone else is really remarkable.”

Click here to watch the 2013 Candlelight Memorial Ceremony


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