Catherine Lighter remembers the evening when her youngest son, 21-year-old Jamison Terrell White, left with friends.
“He said he'd be back, and I said, 'OK,' and he kept looking back at me. We were staring at each other for a long time. And then he left."
Neither knew a car accident later that day would leave him with fatal injuries. When Lighter got the call telling her Jamison was in the emergency department at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, “I couldn't breathe,” she said. “I couldn't think.”
After two days in intensive care, Jamison White died, and his loved ones were asked if he was an organ donor.
At first, his family said no to the idea of donating organs, Lighter said. But then she prayed.
“God was telling me to give my baby the chance to save someone else's life,” she said. “God said, 'Come on. We're fixing to bless somebody today.'”
Paul Davis, who received a pancreas and kidney from organ donor Jamison White, sits beside Dr. Mark Earl, associate professor of transplant surgery, during a news conference about the surgery Dec. 16, 2013
One of those people was Paul Davis, who needed a pancreas and a kidney as the result of his type 1 diabetes, a disease he had battled since the age of 9. His was the first UMMC pancreas transplant. The two met after she saw him on television, thought the organ might have been her son's and reached out to him to see how he was recovering.
They've been close ever since. Smiling at Davis' photo, she said, “He acts just like my son.”
Stories such as these are represented by the photos on UMMC's Wall of Heroes. A collaborative effort of UMMC, the Mississippi Organ Recovery Agency (MORA) and the Mississippi Lions Eye Bank, the memorial displays are a tribute to honor patients who gave the final gift of organ, eye and tissue donation. The Wall of Heroes is on display in the lobby of University Hospital, and a pediatric Wall of Heroes is located on the first floor of Batson Children's Hospital. Both feature photographs of donors submitted by loved ones as a testament to their gifts allowing others to live.
David Wilbanks, father of organ donor Walker Wilbanks, speaks to donor families during the annual Wall of Heroes ceremony at UMMC Friday.
Another of those selfless givers is the family of Walker Wilbanks, a junior football player for Jackson Prep who died in 2014 after amounts of water and sodium in his body became out of balance during a football game.
Helping MORA, father David Wilbanks said, was how the family could “glorify God and glorify Walker.”
“Five people are living today because of Walker,” he said.
“A 55-year-old man in Florida has new lungs. A 16-year-old boy has a new heart. A 55-year-old man in South Carolina has a new kidney,” Wilbanks listed. “And a 34-year-old mother from Mobile has a new right kidney and pancreas.”
Finding a way to give to others despite grief has honored Walker's memory, Wilbanks said. “What would your loved one want you to do?”
“There were so many ripples from donations throughout our community,” said Doris Whitaker, director of pastoral services at UMMC. The actions of donors inspire others to give.
“There's such a delicate balance in expressing gratitude in organ donation,” said Lee Ann Lutken, director of adult nursing services at UMMC. “We know what that gift meant and the grief the family faces.”
The need for organ donation is great, as more than 120,000 Americans are on organ transplant waiting lists. About 1,500 of those are Mississippians.
Every 10 minutes, another person is added to those waiting lists. And every day, about 22 people die waiting for an organ transplant.
The family of organ donor Carmen Smith, including Maggie Burns, center, and, from left, Jennifer Burns, Lisa Smith and Christy Wells, view photos of those whose lives have been saved by organ donation.
One organ donor can save eight lives, and one tissue and eye donor can improve the lives of 50 or more.
Lighter has since come to know Davis and others whose lives were saved by her family's selfless choice of organ donation. On display at the altar at UMMC's chapel were some of their photos.
“I talk with them and they talk with me,” she said. “We keep up with each other on Facebook, and we've been to each other's homes. One is coming to see me at Thanksgiving. We're all family now.”