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Making the Rounds with Founding Dean Dr. Barbara Atkinson
 Issue 197 - June 4, 2019
Dear Friends and Colleagues,

You may have seen it on TV or read about it in the newspaper -- UMC, our main teaching hospital, recently held its first Honor Walk, which shows respect to patients at the end of life who are donating organs to others. Hundreds of nurses, physicians, staff and medical students stood silently in tribute as 18-year-old Michael Sigler made his final journey from the UMC Trauma Center to the operating room to donate his organs. Mr. Sigler made his decision to become an organ donor about two months before he sustained critical injuries in a tragic May 17 motorcycle crash. The family of Mr. Sigler, who was left brain dead, decided to take him off of life support so his final wish, which was to save the lives of others through organ donation, could be fulfilled. “He saw the precious gift that life is,” Mr. Sigler’s mother, Courtney Kaplan told the media. “He saw that there is a bigger picture.” This year more than 113,000 people in the U.S. are waiting to receive the gift of life. In 2017, more than 6,500 Americans died waiting for a precious organ. Today, I’d like to share some of the thoughts of our medical students who were on hand for the Honor Walk at UMC, a powerful act of community.
Barbara signature, first name only
UNLV School of Medicine Students Reflect Upon Organ Donor's Act of Generosity
Surrounded by his parents and caregivers, motorcycle accident victim Michael Sigler was wheeled through UMC, to the operating room, where surgeons would harvest his organs for donation. Hundreds of people lined the hallway to pay their respects. Photos Courtesy: UMC
Whether you were at UMC for the May 22 Honor Walk paying respect to organ donor Michael Sigler or saw it later on the hospital video his family requested be shot to spread the word about organ donation h ttps://www.umcsn.com/Videos/HonorWalkFinal.mp4 , one thing is clear: You’d have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by the tribute given by Mr. Sigler’s family, medical professionals, staff and medical students.

“I looked over my shoulder as he passed by, and I saw not a dry eye,” recalled UNLV School of Medicine student Alex Ma. “Not from nurses, not from administration, not from anyone. I locked eyes with one of my professors, who was overcome with emotion. I instinctively hugged her and held her close…”

UMC Chief Experience Officer Danita Cohen says Mr. Sigler’s donation of organs has already helped nine other people. She also says two other families have had an Honor Walk at UMC since the tribute to Mr. Sigler.  

“I’ve always marveled at how one person can save the lives of many,” said Mr. Ma, who says the tribute really made him think. “Michael and his family made a choice. To not let a death put more ugly into the world. To counter death with life. “

Mr. Sigler’s final journey on a hospital bed from UMC Trauma to the operating room to donate his organs saw him pass by individuals in pinstriped suits, dresses, pantsuits, white coats and ties, crumpled scrubs, custodian and police uniforms -- people representing every sector of the hospital were on hand to pay homage to a young man who had made a decision to be an organ donor just two months before a tragic May 17 motorcycle accident left him brain dead.
“It was an intimate way for all the healthcare workers who were taking care of the patient and even the recipient’s family to appreciate the silver lining in such a grave and tragic circumstance." Diane Han
Some prayed. Others put a hand over their heart out of respect.

The family of Mr. Sigler decided to take him off life support so his final wish, which was to save the lives of others through organ donation, could be fulfilled.

His parents, Charles Christan Sigler and Courtney Kaplan, chose to have an Honor Walk because they knew how important organ donation was to their son and hoped it would increase organ donation in a state that currently has 615 Nevadans waiting for the gift of life.

According to Cohen, “we only put out a few messages to staff inviting them to join us for the Honor Walk, and staff came in early, stayed after their shift, and even came in on their day off. It was important to them to salute this patient’s and family’s decision to give the ultimate gift.”

Several UNLV medical students were at UMC as part of their studies, which include doing rounds with physicians.

Second year student Diane Han found the Honor Walk particularly meaningful.

“It was a beautiful way to honor the donor and their family. It was an intimate way for all the healthcare workers who were taking care of the patient and even the recipient’s family to appreciate the silver lining in such a grave and tragic circumstance. Often times, physicians and other healthcare workers are so busy...that they forget to take a step back and absorb all the emotions and vulnerability that comes with dealing with life and death."

Medical student Lauren Hollifield, who saw the donor just as he and his family approached the operating room, said she “felt overwhelmed with emotions, a unique juxtaposition between the feeling of profound sadness for the donor and the feeling of gratitude for (what he was giving) the recipients.”

Ms. Hollifield, while understanding that not all families would wish to have such a public display, said the Honor Walk should be offered to families of all organ donors.

“It allows the family and donor to be acknowledged for their generous act, as well as hopefully provide comfort to the family knowing that the donation will greatly benefit others.”

Medical student William Gravley stresses that the idea of having an Honor Walk for an organ donors “must be handled on a case by case basis depending on the wishes and emotional state of the bereaved.”

Ms. Cohen says the idea of an Honor Walk is handled with sensitivity at UMC. “We spent a lot of time talking with the family to ensure we were carrying out their wishes. They asked us to video the walk because it was important to them to spread the word about organ donation.”

Mr. Gravley believes an Honor Walk can help increase organ donation.

“Certainly, efforts such as the Honor Walk help to display how people are, in fact, donating organs, that the practice is not taboo, and that they can change lives even in death.“

Medical student Allison Aldrich truly hopes an Honor Walk helps families. “I hope it gives them at least a little comfort when seeing the enormous appreciation people have for what their loved one has chosen to do -- and experiencing the support of so many people.“

That so many people are now talking about organ donation in the wake of the tribute to Mr. Sigler has made medical student Ma appreciate the young donor even more.

“I hope wherever that young man is, he knows what a difference he made in people’s lives that day.”
Alex Ma
Allison Aldrich
William Gravley
Lauren Hollifield
Diane Han
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