Avondale organ donor receives ‘angel of hope’ award

By Susanna P. Barton

 

Avondale resident Terry Dennis received a life honor last month. The Gabriel House of Care at Mayo Clinic gave Dennis its first annual Christopher Mark Gregory Angel of Hope Award for his organ donation advocacy.

But Dennis makes one point very clear: While the award is an exhilarating recognition, Dennis is not the big story here. The most important news, he says, is that organ donation brings life to others and deserves more national awareness. And Christopher Mark Gregory is an example of this unselfish act.

“I want to encourage others to be organ donors,” Dennis said

Dennis’ own connection to organ donation began 25 years before the recent award win. When his son Matt was just three years old, he became Florida’s first pediatric cardiac transplant.

“Firsthand we were exposed to the need,” Dennis said. During the experience, Dennis spoke to the national media about his family’s experience and the need for organ donations. “25 years ago, there weren’t many people speaking out for organ donations. So I started writing letters. I went to every service club or group who would let me in. Anything I could do to help, I was all in.”

Along the way, Dennis was recruited to participate in the 5 Points of Light cross country bike ride to raise funds and awareness of the needs.

But Dennis’ connection to organ donation came to its most intimate point last year. Matt’s anti-rejection medication had taken a toll on his kidneys and he needed a transplant. Dennis was the first to offer one of his own, and had surgery late last year to share it. Matt, now 28, is healthy and active thanks to his most recent transplant — he’s skied on black diamond slopes in Massachusetts and recently did some white water rafting.

Dennis’ connection to Christopher Mark Gregory, the 19-year-old Eagle Scout for which the new Mayo award was named, was not direct — but now holds new concrete connection. Both were Eagle Scouts. And both men have helped others through organ donation.

“It was [Gregory]’s idea to donate his organs, and when he died his parents were devastated,” Dennis said. “But when it came to organ donation there was no question. That was his wish. When I found out he was an Eagle Scout, I thought — ‘wow, we shared that.'”

Gregory suffered a fatal brain aneurism several years ago. Because he made the decision to be an organ donor at an early age, his organs helped five people in very tangible, life-giving ways. One of those recipients was Jorge Bacardi. Bacardi received a double lung transplant thanks to Gregory’s unselfish act. As a way to honor Gregory — called the angel “Gabriel” by his organ recipient because of the healing life Gregory brought him — the Jorge and Leslie Bacardi made a donation to Mayo Clinic for the construction of its new hospitality house, now known as Gabriel House of Care. The facility provides resources for transplant and cancer patients and their families.

“There will be thousands of people touched because Christopher’s path crossed with Bacardi’s — people at Gabriel House were touched. People there will now have a place to stay when they’re going through this,” Dennis said. “Matt’s donor is the hero here  — Christopher Mark Gregory is the hero.”

Help Terry honor Chris by becoming a blood, organ, platelet, bone marrow and/or cord blood donor.  To become a donor contact: Florida Georgia Blood Alliance, 888-998-2243; www.igiveblood.com ; Donate Life Florida, 352-733-0350; www.DonateLifeFlorida.orgThe National Marrow Donor Program; marrow.org

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