CASPER, Wyo— It was breezy and partly sunny Saturday as people from across the region turned out for the annual Wyoming Donor Dash 5K at the Tate Pumphouse.
The event was a celebration of those who choose to donate organs and tissues after death. There are nearly 2,000 people in Wyoming and Colorado on waiting lists for one of the eight solid organs that can be donated, according to Ryea’ O’Neill, community relations coordinator of the Wyoming Donor Alliance.
There are thousands more who need tissue for cornea transplants, burn repair, sports injuries and other orthopedic repairs, she said.
In Wyoming, people are given the option to check ‘yes’ for donation every four years when they renew drivers’ licenses, and their most recent choice is honored.
The percentage of those who donate in Wyoming’s is 62%, the third-highest of states in U.S in 2019.
“I’ve lived here my whole life, and that’s always a testament to me that [we take pride] in taking care of our own. When our neighbors get sick, we help.” She added that tissue donor recipients are grateful for the ability carry on the Wyoming work ethic.
Those who don’t are “undecided,” O’Neill said. She said the number-one myth amongst the reluctant is that they feel they are too old or sick for their donations to be useful. She said they are probably underestimating recent innovations by medical professionals, and the range of applications for tissue donation.
“The science is amazing and it’s constantly changing. We tell people, ‘Do not rule yourself out.’” O’Neil said.
Many in attendance Saturday have been personally affected by donation. The family of J.C. Robertson of Casper, who died at the age of 17, had met the 17-year-old Colorado boy named C.J. who received his heart.
C.J. enjoys fishing, as J.C. did.
“He was an angel that walked on earth because he helped everybody,” said J.C.’s grandmother Debbie. “When he passed, there was a hundred or more kids that did vigils for him for four days.”
Sisters Barbara, Betsi, Becca, and Lesley Steplock spoke before the race in honor of their mother Deborah, a lifelong nurse and registered donor who died in 2019.
Barbara said Deborah became an international hero when her cornea went to a woman in Japan, and, most affecting to the sisters, her heart went a father of four and grandfather to six.
She said the sisters get peace imagining the lives of the donor recipients, and like to imagine that they may have acquired Deborah’s love for the New Orleans Saints, Coca-Cola, and dancing to Elvis.
Barbara added that Deborah lives on through her and her sisters. “She gave us everything. She raised us to be independent and strong.”
Barbara said she’d carried this advice from her mother: “Being mad is a waste of energy.”
“Always choose joy,” Becca added. “Unbreakable joy.”