Honor Walk ceremonies give donor patients “a hero's goodbye”

[4 MIN READ]

In this article:

  • More than 109,000 people are currently on the national transplant waiting list

  • A donor can provide up to 8 organs plus eyes and tissue

  • Providence nursing manager Bryan Noakes shares how “honor walks” allow families and caregivers to show respect and gratitude for a profound gift.

A few months back, in the cardiac intensive care unit at Mission Hospital, a family was grieving.

Despite the hospital's best efforts, their loved one wouldn't be able to recover.

But through Mission Hospital's OneLegacy organ donation program, she would live on in others and save multiple lives.

To honor her and her gift of life, the hospital arranged an Honor Walk.

"She was cherished by her family and they wanted to see her wish fulfilled by donating her organs," says Aimee Richardson, a nurse leader at Mission Hospital and one of the woman's caregivers. "The honor walk meant so much to her family, knowing that she would be able to heal others."

Showing respect and love for patients and families

Donating organs, eyes or tissue is no small gesture — it can save and improve many lives. Recognizing this powerful gift, Mission Hospital offers Honor Walk ceremonies to all families of organ donor patients. The care team collaborates with the loved ones to understand any specific requests for the walk and works with spiritual care specialists as needed.

The Honor Walk takes place when a donor patient, who is on life support, is transferred from the nursing unit to the operating room or a waiting ambulance (for transfer to the OneLegacy transplant center). During the walk, caregivers quietly line the hallways from the patient's room to the OR or ambulance bay. In some cases, a dedication or reading is done at the start of the honor walk.

"An Honor Walk is a quiet, yet profound and powerful way to give a loved one a hero's goodbye and to give thanks for a gift that will save and enhance the lives of many," says Bryan Noakes, nurse manager at Mission Hospital. "This is typically such a difficult day for the donor’s family, and we hope that our appreciation can help comfort the family in a time of great sadness."

The walks also offer hospital caregivers an opportunity to show their love and respect for the donor and their family. Bedside nurses, in particular, form close bonds with loved ones and are present during some of the most challenging days of their lives.

"The calm and quiet display of loving support is incredibly moving and poignant," Noakes says. "It's a symbol of unity and compassion among families, donors and their care teams."

Fulfilling a great need

As of September 2020, there are more than 109,000 men, women and children on the national transplant waiting list, and every nine minutes another person is added to that list. Meanwhile, 17 people die every day waiting for an organ transplant.

Each donor can give up to eight organs — including the heart, two lungs, liver, pancreas, two kidneys and intestines. Donors can also provide eyes and tissue donations, which could be used for allograft transplants on the face, hands and abdominal walls. That means a donor could potentially save or improve the lives of not one, but several individuals.

And the donation process not only saves lives, but can also help grieving families.

"To be able to turn tragedy into new life is a powerful way to begin the healing," Noakes says. "A part of your loved one can live on."

Registering as an organ, eye, and tissue donor is easy to do online. Simply select your state and provide a few identification details with your local motor vehicle department. Then, make sure to talk with your family about your choice to donate so that they can support your wishes.

Helping bring closure to a family

Thinking back to the Honor Walk for the woman in the cardiac intensive care unit, Richardson recalls the emotional event:

OneLegacy shared a reflection with the caregivers and family, followed by a moment of silence.  

Once the transplant team arrived, we prepared to move the woman to the operating room (OR). The family walked with the bed, with caregivers lining every hallway from the CICU to the OR entrance. They were silently grieving for the loss of someone so cherished, but also showing appreciation for the gift she would bring to so many.

The woman's family cried throughout the whole experience. Once we got to the OR, they kissed her goodbye. I then walked them to the main lobby, where they would wait for the OR team's call.

One member of the family looked at me and shared how much the Honor Walk meant to him. His loved one had struggled to find purpose and feel valued, but her ability to give life and heal so many others would have made her so happy. Tears rolled down his face as he thanked me for caring for her and for the people who came to honor her.

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Find a doctor

You can also talk to your doctor to learn more about the organ donation process. If you need to find a doctor, you can use our provider directory. Through Providence Express Care Virtual, you can also access a full range of healthcare services. 

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Related resources

OneLegacy

U.S. Government Information on Organ Donation and Transplantation

Donate Life America

Donor's family hears son's heart beat once more

Organ donation: Facts and myths

Strong as ever: A powerlifter's kidney transplant journey

About the Author

The Providence Heart & Vascular Team is committed to bringing you many years of expertise and experience to help you understand how to prevent, treat and recover from cardiovascular diseases and conditions. From tips to eating better to exercise and everything in between, our clinical experts know how to help you help your heart.

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