Donate Life flag ceremony gives one local mother the chance to tell her story
A Hardin County mother whose son Eli received a heart transplant at four months old, spoke at the event.
ELIZABETHTOWN, KY (April 28, 2023) – Baptist Health Hardin held a Donate Life flag raising ceremony on Thursday to honor those whose lives have been touched by organ donation.
Caitlyn Alexander, a Hardin County mother whose son Eli received a heart transplant at four months old, spoke at the event, which was also attended by hospital leaders and staff and representatives from Kentucky Organ Donor Affiliates (KODA).
At 32 weeks into her pregnancy, Alexander had been gifted a 3D ultrasound by her mother. It was during this ultrasound that the tech noticed an irregular heartbeat. The news would change the lives of not only Caitlyn, but the entire family. Eli Alexander was diagnosed with hypoplastic right heart syndrome. The syndrome covers several possible heart conditions. In Eli’s case, his heart was too small, and the blood was not flowing properly through it.
Alexander said in her speech, “After my son was born it quickly became clear that his heart could not be fixed by the standard three surgeries used in hypoplastic children. A heart transplant was his best chance at life. Transplant, however, was a difficult choice. The doctors told me that it was not a cure. I knew that if my son received a transplant, it would be in the wake of another family’s tragedy.”
Alexander recalls the moment when she received the news that a heart had become available. She had been sitting at Eli’s hospital bed watching and waiting for something to happen with her son, who was so frail and week, when the phone rang, and she heard the words she had hoped and prayed for so long to hear, ‘We got a heart!’
It was a bittersweet moment for her. “My heart, while overwhelmed with joy, was weeping for the mother who already received bad news. My heart was reaching for hers, mourning her child with her but also thanking her for making such a brave decision to save my child despite her tragedy.”
As Eli grows, so will his heart. It will grow naturally along with the rest of his body. He is now five years out from his transplant. He will have some restrictions specific to his condition. The heart transplant meant that a nerve was cut, and as a result, he cannot feel chest pain. Because he cannot detect pain in his chest, he will not be able to play contact sports. The family has also been trained to identify signs of a heart attack, since Eli would not feel the classic symptom of chest pains that can accompany cardiac events. In most other respects, Eli is much like other children his own age. Alexander said her son has “blossomed into a rambunctious, wild, curious little boy.”
Alexander has always been registered as an organ donor, but now realizes the true impact of that decision. “It is a beautiful gift that comes from tragedy.” She credits faith for getting the family through the experience.
“The beautiful thing about a forest fire is that after the flames are extinguished and the ground looks barren, something starts to stir,” she said to the crowd. “New life is starting and eventually the forest will bloom again…When he grabs my face with his little hands, looks me in the eyes, and smiles, I feel in my soul the enormity of the gift we were given. Though the fire swept away a life, it also made a way for new life to bloom. It will continue to bloom and grow rooted deeply in the gratitude for the selfless decision of one donor family.”
Baptist Health Hardin Vice President and Chief Nursing Officer Jennifer Woods also spoke at the ceremony and urged people to consider organ donation and talk to their families about their decision.
“Donate Life Month, observed every April, is a time set aside to honor organ donors and recipients and raise awareness about the critical need for organ donation,” she said. “Today, we come together to raise the Donate Life flag to honor the lives of those touched by organ donation and to recognize the strength of those still waiting for life-saving transplants. We are honored to have Caitlyn Alexander with us to share the story of her son, who has opportunities and potential that are only possible because of the generous gift of an organ donor. Right now, there are 1,000 Kentuckians waiting for an organ, and another person is added to that list every nine minutes. The Donate Life flag is a visible reminder that each of us has the power to help by giving the greatest gift of all –the gift of life.”
The ceremony concluded with the flag raising and a moment of silence lasting one minute and four seconds, to recognize the more than 104,000 patients waiting for a life-saving transplant.
Alexander hopes to write a book about her experience. In the meantime, you can follow Eli’s journey on her blog at tinyheartwarrior.wordpress.com.
About organ donation
In 2022, 239 organ donors and 539 tissue donors saved nearly 600 lives across the Commonwealth – a 23% increase in organ donation compared to 2021 and the most lives saved in any year.
Although there has been a steady increase in organ donors, 20 people still die each day waiting for a transplant. While 95% of U.S. adults say they support organ donation, only 54% are registered as donors. You can make a difference by registering as an organ donor today.
Registration to become a Kentucky organ donor can be done online or in person at the local Kentucky DMV Office. You can register in person when receiving or renewing a driver’s license or state ID card. To become a donor online, sign up at the Kentucky donor registry.
Additional organ donation facts
- You can donate an organ at any age (persons under the age of 18 may have some restrictions and consent from legal guardian is required),
- All major religions approve of tissue and organ donation,
- A donation is possible with many medical conditions,
- A national database and strict standards ensure the fair and ethical distribution of organs,
- Financial status is not a factor in getting a transplant,
- You can be a living donor of a kidney or part of the liver, intestine, lung, bone marrow or blood,
Your legacy continues when you share your life with others. For more information, visit Donate Life KY.