Hero Hustle to raise organ and tissue donation awarenessWritten by Staff Reports | | firstname.lastname@example.org
By Michele Jurek, Toledo Free Press Staff Writer
“Organ donation is something you never want to think about,” said Kelly and Monny Yakumithis, whose 6-year-old daughter, Elena, was killed in a car accident in June 2010. “But the hope you can give another family is immeasurable.”
The couple will participate in the inaugural Hero Hustle 5K on Nov. 1 at the Shops at Fallen Timbers in Maumee. The event, presented by Community Tissue Services of Northwest Ohio and Life Connection of Ohio, is designed to strengthen support, education, and recognition of organ, eye, and tissue donation in Northwest Ohio.
The event’s theme is “Be a Hero at Life’s Finish Line” because everyone has the potential to be a hero through organ, eye and tissue donation, said Kara Steele, director of community services at Life Connection of Ohio.
“We are inviting organ, eye and tissue donor families, recipients, living donors, supporters, friends, family, and anyone else in support of donation to participate in the Hero Hustle,” Steele said. “Recipients can walk or run because of the gift of donation they received, and donor family members can participate to honor their loved ones’ generosity. And we invite the community to participate to support the cause.”
The Hero Hustle will begin at 9 a.m., with a Kids’ Fun Run at 8:30 a.m. Kids of all ages are encouraged to wear superhero costumes for the event. Registration starts at 7:30 a.m. Check-in tents will be in the grass across from Rave Cinemas. The route starts near Barnes and Noble and follows the internal roads of Fallen Timbers, and then crosses out onto the bike trail before returning back to Barnes and Noble. Registration is online only until the day of the event (www.davesraces.com). Pre-race online registration is $20, and race-day registration is $25. This fee includes a T-shirt and goodie bag.
Organizers are not looking at the Hero Hustle as a fundraiser, but as a community event to raise awareness.
“We are always striving to increase the number of registered organ, eye, and tissue donors in northwest Ohio,” Steele said. “If there are any proceeds, that money will be put to good use educating the community about the importance of donation.”
According to Steele, more than 123,000 people are currently awaiting life-saving organ transplants in the U.S., including over 3,300 Ohioans. Thirty people die every day waiting for organ transplants because the need far outweighs the supply. One person has the power to save eight lives through organ donation and 50 more through tissue donation. More than 28,000 lives are saved through organ donation every year, and more than one million people benefit from tissue transplants every year.
None of these statistics were on the mind of Kelly and Monny Yakumithis on June 9, 2010, when Kelly was in a car accident with their son, Alex, and their daughter, Elena. Kelly and Alex weren’t hurt, but Elena sustained a traumatic brain injury. After learning their daughter would not recover, it was Monny who brought up organ donation to the doctors.
Kelly’s grandmother had been an organ donor recipient, as was Monny’s uncle; both received kidneys from family members. The Yakumithis family was familiar with organ donation, and both Kelly and Monny are registered donors. Although heartbroken about their daughter, they knew there was a chance Elena could help others.
Elena’s heart could not be donated because she had gone into cardiac arrest twice, but her kidneys and liver were viable. Elena’s kidneys have allowed a 40-year-old father of four to spend more time with his family, and her liver saved the life of a 13-year-old girl.
Kelly and Monny began volunteering at Life Connection of Ohio, which promotes and facilitates organ donation, to honor their daughter. Kelly has participated in Cleveland’s organ donation awareness walk, and she and Monny were happy to hear that Toledo would hold an event. They will walk as a part of Team Elena, which already has over 50 members, including about 15 from the Yakumithis family. They will all wear matching Team Elena T-shirts.
Other Team Elena participants include Elena’s kindergarten teacher and several of her classmates from Wayne Trail Elementary School, which the family finds heartwarming.
“Her classmates were so young when this happened, so we didn’t know how much they would remember about Elena,” Kelly said.
The Maumee High School girls’ cross country team will run the race in Team Elena shirts as well. Kelly said two of her brothers-in-law had signed up for the New York City Marathon that will take place the same day as the Hero Hustle, but if they had known about the local race sooner, they would have participated. Instead, they will wear their Team Elena shirts for the New York race.
Hero Hustle organizers decided to hold the event on Nov. 1 to kick off the month of Thanksgiving because there are countless grateful recipients in northwest Ohio who are here because of selfless gifts of donation.
“When you are faced with the darkest time of your life, the last thing you are thinking about is organ donation,” Kelly said. “But to see the lives that Elena has touched is an amazing thing.”