Today we are sharing a story about celebrating the love, legacy, and support for donation; this time through creativity and art. Donor mom Barbara Sauer answers some of our questions about her daughter, Heather’s, donation story and the process behind her family’s Donate Life Month home art project.
Heather Nicole Ripley was born on October 31, 1991. She was diagnosed with asthma around the age of two. During her lifetime, Heather had many asthma attacks that led to hospital visits. As she grew older the hospital visits decreased, but on January 4, 2018, she fell into cardiac arrest. On January 8, 2018, at only 26 years old, Heather was declared brain dead. As an organ donor, Heather saved the lives of four individuals. Her heart went to a 31-year-old female, her liver to a 50-year-old male, her right kidney to a 31-year-old male, and her left kidney and pancreas to a 65-year-old female. She also healed and enhanced many lives as a tissue donor.
We chatted with her mother, Barbara Sauer, to learn more about Heather’s legacy and her family’s support of donation.
What was your daughter like?
"Heather always yearned to help others, which led her to earn a master’s degree in social work and become a social worker. She was very dedicated to her clients, her job, and serving the community. She loved being surrounded by her family and friends. She had three bulldogs named Skeeter, Tank, and Squirt; they were her pride and joy. She was also a diehard Ravens fan."
Did you know Heather had decided to be a donor?
"When Heather got her license at 16 years old, my husband and I explained what it meant to be an organ donor and we left the decision to her. She made the decision and said yes, not knowing how great of an impact she would have on her recipient’s lives today. We could not be prouder of her for making that decision."
Why is Donate Life Month important to you?
"My family and I had never heard of The Living Legacy Foundation prior to this tragic incident, but once they started helping us through the process of having her become a donor, we learned so much about organ donation and its life-changing impact. Ever since then, we have chosen to promote awareness and the importance of organ, eye, and tissue donation. Through them we learned about Donate Life Month and what we can do to celebrate it."
What inspired you to paint your front door to celebrate Donate Life Month in honor of your daughter?
"We honor Heather as often as we can, but this year we wanted to do something different. The idea of painting our door arose as we saw others showing their love and support for health care professionals during the COVID-19 pandemic. This was our first time creating something like this, but we thought it turned out great!"
How did you decorate the door?
"My husband Carl and I, along with my daughter Savannah, started by taking our storm door window out of the doorway. Then we used our Donate Life flag, which was flown at St. Agnes Hospital in honor of Heather, as a stencil for the Donate Life emblem. We used painters’ tape to create our triangles and acrylic paint with a touch of dish soap to paint. Overall, the process took us about 6 hours to finish, but the outcome was worth it."
What is the message you hope to spread to others in your community through this project?
"By painting our door for Donate Life Month, we wanted to express the importance of organ donation to our community in the hope that those who see it will say yes to becoming a donor. We also wanted to celebrate the lives of donors, recipients, those on the waiting list, and their families as well as anyone else who has been impacted by donation. We hope that any families who are experiencing a similar situation to the one we had will see our door and feel comfortable enough to reach out, have the opportunity to express their feelings, and become a part of the Donate Life community."