Reno mom honored for baby's organ donation

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Updated: 12/28/2013 3:12 am

RENO, Nev. (AP) — Felicia Hill was 19 years old when she held her infant daughter in her arms at Renown Medical Center and watched as her baby took its last breath.

Audrey Jade Hope Sullenger was born April 30, 2011 and died three days later.

She was born to save others, Hill told the Reno Gazette-Journal.

"Making this decision gave me peace and comfort," Hill, now 22, said with a smile. "This makes it OK because I know my daughter died to save lives."

Audrey suffered from oxygen deprivation. Because oxygen was unable to reach the brain, it stopped working.

Three days later, Hill donated Audrey's heart and kidneys to a 3-week-old baby named Addison Yong, who was dying of a heart condition, and Hydee Efondo Lim, a 38-year-old on dialysis after she suffered kidney failure.

The California Transplant Donor network will honor Audrey, the youngest donor in Nevada in 2011, by displaying a floral portrait of her on a float in the 2014 Tournament of Roses Parade on New Year's Day.

Audrey is one of 81 donors who will be remembered on the Donate Life America float, which has participated in the parade for 11 years, said Wendy Knorr, spokeswoman for the California Donor Network.

Because hospital staff at Renown was able to oxygenate her organs, "They left that window for donation open," Knorr said.

This year the nonprofit's float theme is "Lighting up the World" and will feature various types of lanterns. The portraits will be placed on the lanterns, representing the "light of life" that donors shine upon the world.

Donate Life is an alliance that works with organ procurement organizations in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Its partners include the California Donor Network, which is among the 58 organizations that work to publicly educate on the benefits of organ donating. It helps coordinate with donors and recipients for quick transplants, Knorr said.

Elaine Yong was waiting in the intensive care unit at BC's Children Hospital in Vancouver, Canada in the spring of 2011. She had been in the hospital for several days when she received a call from her daughter's surgeon telling her he had a Mother's Day gift for her.

It was a new heart for Addison.

"It was a moment I will never forget," Yong said. "You're hearing all these things that you never think you'll hear as a parent. We were barely able to digest the fact that Addison was dying."

Yong was shocked. At first, she couldn't believe the news.

"I was incredibly joyous and then I thought, 'Oh my God, somebody else had to lose their child,'" Yong said. "It was mix of emotions. We knew this was the only chance we had and we felt so fortunate that it was happening for us."

A year after Audrey's death, Hill, who has another young daughter, reached out to Yong via Facebook and other social media. They met in September in Santa Clara, Calif., at a Donate Life walk, Yong said.

"She actually found us," Yong said. "She had been curious about the baby who received Audrey's heart."

Yong said she "absolutely" wanted to meet the donor family.

"I expected it to be a lot more sad and emotional than it really was," Yong said. "I think you could see that Felicia and her family were joyous that Audrey's death was not in vain."

Lim also remembered getting the unexpected call. She and her husband, Fernando Lim, were watching a movie at their Sacramento home when the California Donor Network called to tell her she would receive a transplant.

"I was shocked and there was no excitement or reaction," said Lim, now 41. "I didn't even know you could get a kidney from a different person outside the family."

Lim, who is originally from the Philippines, had been on the waiting list for six years. Her kidneys began failing her because of Lupus, an autoimmune disease. Fernando Lim had to encourage her to not miss out on the opportunity. He helped her prepare for the trip back to the hospital, he said.

"It's unforgettable. It's giving life. It's a wonderful thing," he said. "I would like to become an organ donor."

More people with kidney failure are beginning to tell their stories via social media because it's a faster way to make connections, Knorr said.

As of this week, there are 121,324 people on the national transplant waiting list for organ donation, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing. Of that, 99,239 are waiting for kidneys.

Neither Lim nor Yong will be at the parade, but both will be watching on TV, they said. Hill will be watching up close — from her spot along the parade route.

___

Information from: Reno Gazette-Journal, http://www.rgj.com

 

©2013 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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