This has been a devastating year for Rockwell resident Carol Cook.
She buried her husband of 25 years and her 19-year-old son, Morton Michael Cook II, three months apart. Her husband, Morton Michael Cook, succumbed to a massive heart attack and died in her arms in February. Morton II, whom Mrs. Cook describes as “lovable, handsome and intelligent,” was killed when he was thrown from the bed of a friend’s pickup truck.
“He loved hanging out with his friends, being with his family and riding his horse,” his mother recalled. “He was just learning to ride his father’s motorcycle … and he was getting ready to go back to school. He was going to start law school.”
Morton II was among the 26 organ donors whose memories were honored Oct. 30 on the Tree of Life in the Davis Memorial Chapel at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. Each year, organ donors’ names are engraved on metal leaves that are placed upon the Tree of Life as a statuesque reminder of the sacrifices organ donor families make.
“The ceremony today is a celebration of the gifts of organ and tissue donation, in recognition of life saving donations given by so many in the face of tragedy,” said Dr. Robert Stratta, director of the Abdominal Organ Transplant Program at the medical center. “…Organ donation is about the resilience of the human spirit, about having something good come out of something terrible… We must constantly remember that the need is great, the choice is painstaking, and the reward is priceless.”
The ever-expanding number of names that appear on the tree each year is bittersweet.
“Every year, it grows and it’s a sad thing and it’s a joyous thing,” said Neurosurgery Chairman Dr. Charles Branch Jr., who created the project in memory of his friend and colleague, Dr. Timothy Pons, a neurosurgery researcher who died while awaiting a liver transplant in 2005. “Every leaf on it represents one or three or five people who have received a wonderful gift … Your gift, your actions of sharing your loved one with someone that you don’t know – with a total stranger – is the most wonderful display of love that I know. Thank you for showing me – for showing so many – what real love is.”
Carol Cook says she didn’t hesitate to donate her husband’s organs, but when it came to her only son, whom the family affectionately referred to as “Mikey,” she faltered.
“With my son, I was kind of iffy,” admitted the mother of three. “But then I realized my son is so young that his organs are healthy, and there’s another child out there (who needs them). He can save somebody’s life and my son will live on – and my husband – through somebody else.”
Cook is a strong believer in organ donation. Her grandfather donated his retinas when he passed away, and though she was just a girl at the time, she still recalls the joy she felt when her grandmother received a call telling the family that her grandfather’s donation had allowed a child to see the world for the first time.
Lori Ann Hawks was also posthumously honored. The 34-year-old was killed in a head-on collision on northbound Highway 52 in June. Her brother, John Hawks, described the mother of three as “probably the most dualistic person you could ever meet.”
“She could be the most loving and nurturing person you could ever meet, and at the same time, she could be the most warrior and defensive mother,” remarked Hawks, an evangelist. “If I ever said anything about her, it would be a passionate flame, either in her love for others or in defense of her children.”
Lori Ann’s older sister, Christy Zsiros, said she didn’t know that Lori Ann wanted to be an organ donor until the accident, but she wasn’t surprised.
“She was definitely a giver,” declared the Zsiros, who flew in from her home in Palm City, Fla. for the service. “She didn’t have anything; everybody else around her did. She gave what she had.”
Though she is deeply saddened by the loss of her sibling, Zsiros said she hoped that the recipients would respond to Lori Ann’s last gift not with remorse, but with a sense of joy.
“She leaves us in flesh, not in heart and soul, and others get to stay,” said Zsiros, who added that four lives were saved by Lori’s life-giving donations just in the initial hours after her passing. “…In her death, other people got life, and that’s okay with us.”
Frances Hawks said being able to help another family by donating her daughter’s organs has been a source of comfort for her.
“It gives her death a meaning. For me as a mother, she’s left the children and then her organs are helping others to carry on their lives,” said the mother of five. “We anxiously awaited the letter to come from Carolina Donor Services telling us what organs could be used. We couldn’t have kept her, but other people’s lives can go on, and we’re so glad for that.”
Organ recipient Ethan Pressman gave the families a firsthand account of the joy organ donation can bring. Pressman, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 12, received a simultaneous kidney and pancreas transplant in 2006, after over a year on dialysis.
“I’ve been alive to experience so many things that I otherwise would not have… I’ve celebrated birthdays, Thanksgivings, Christmases, anniversaries and graduations,” Pressman told those on hand for the tree unveiling. “As a fortunate recipient of these gifts, I can tell you that appreciation and gratitude are due. With my deep and personal familiarity of how truly astounding this gift can be, I’d like to extend my thanks to each and every one of you, not just from myself, but from everyone who has been a recipient of the loss and benefits of your gifts.”
For more information about organ donation, visit ww.carolinadonorservices.org.