Organ, tissue, cornea donations change, save lives - April 25, 2017

Courtesy of

Written by Lu Ann Franklin

GARY — With tears, hugs and prayers, speakers at Methodist Hospitals’ Donate Life flag raising ceremony on Monday told the story of how organ, tissue and cornea donations change and save lives.

Vicki Walker, of Crown Point, made the decision in late May 2015 to donate the organs of her beloved 18-year-old daughter, Nikki Smith, who was found floating face down in the pool of a Schererville home where she’d been baby-sitting. Smith, who was put on life support at Franciscan Health hospital in Dyer, died June 1.

Walker said she and Nikki first discussed organ donation years earlier during a trip to the mall where Nikki saw her mom’s driver’s license and wondered why it had a heart on it.

“I told her that it meant I wanted to be an organ donor. ‘When I make my transition, I won’t need them (my organs)’ I told Nikki,” Walker said.

“She made the decision then to be an organ donor and when she received her driver’s license at 16, she had the heart put on the license,” Walker said.

“On the worst day of my life, we were brought into a conference room and asked if we wanted to donate Nikki’s organs. Her father was against it, but I won,” Walker said. “Five lives were saved (when Nikki’s heart, lungs, liver and kidneys were donated).”

Tanisha Basham, who received Nikki’s heart at Walker’s insistence, stood next to Walker at Monday’s ceremony.

“Tanisha’s sister and I have been friends for 37 years,” Walker said. “I told her, ‘I need to hear my baby’s heart beating.’”

Basham, a grocery store supervisor from University Park, Illinois, previously had to be hospitalized multiple times for complications from congestive heart failure. In late 2013, doctors implanted a heart pump, hoping to keep the organ working until a donor could be found.

Initially, Basham said she refused to consider receiving Nikki’s heart.

“How can I take the heart of a precious little girl who I saw grow up, who is the same age as my oldest daughter?” Basham recalled saying.

However, tests revealed that she was a 100 percent match to Nikki.

“Some family members aren’t a 100 percent match,” Walker said. “That was God. She’s like my own sister. She has three kids. I wanted her to see her children grow up.”

When she woke up from the heart transplant that took place at Advocate Heart Institute at Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Illinois, Basham said she heard a loud beating noise.

“I asked the nurse what that sound was. She said, ‘That’s your heart,’” Basham said. “I signed up to be an organ donor when I was 16. I never imagined that I would be the one receiving an organ.

“I have my life back. My oldest child is 21, and my youngest is graduating from eighth grade and I get to see it all,” Basham said, breaking down in tears and hugging Walker, who also wept.

Walker said she tells Nikki’s story alongside Basham hoping to clear up misconceptions, largely existing in the African-American community, that organs only go to the rich and famous and that if you’re a donor, doctors will let you die to harvest your organs.

“Nearly 15,000 Hoosiers and 118,000 in the U.S. are waiting for lifesaving organ donations,” said Evelyn Morrison, Methodist Hospitals spokeswoman.

Echoing the need for organ, tissue and cornea donations were Jack Lynch, director of community affairs for the Gift of Hope Organ and Tissue Donor Network, and Mike Henderson, VisionFirst professional services coordinator based in Indianapolis.