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 motorcycle crash. The family of Mr. Sigler, who was left brain dead, 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.
“He saw the precious gift that life is,” Mr. Sigler’s mother, Courtney Kaplan, said. “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.
The Honor Walk
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 that was shot at the request of his family to help spread the word about organ donation one thing is clear: You’d have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by the tribute given by 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 medical 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…”
Danita Cohen, UMC chief experience officer, said Sigler’s donation of organs has already helped nine people. She also said two other families have had an Honor Walk at UMC since the tribute to Sigler.
“I’ve always marveled at how one person can save the lives of many,” said Ma, adding that 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. “
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, and custodian and police uniforms — people representing every sector of the hospital were on hand to show their respect for the teen.
Some prayed. Others put a hand over their heart.
His parents, Charles Christian 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.
“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,” Cohen said. “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 health care 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 health care 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.”
Hollifield, who said she understands 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 Gravely stressed that the idea of having an Honor Walk “must be handled on a case-by-case basis depending on the wishes and emotional state of the bereaved.”
Cohen said 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.”
Gravely believes Honor Walks 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.”
Medical student Ma said the fact that so many people are now talking about organ donation in the wake of the tribute to Sigler has made him 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.”