In 1993, the State of Wisconsin began formally honoring organ donor families served by the two organ procurement organizations (OPOs) within the state: University of Wisconsin Organ and Tissue Donation (UW OTD) and Blood Center of Wisconsin/Wisconsin Donor Network (BCW/WDN). Each year, the Governor demonstrates Wisconsin’s support of donation by inviting the families of organ donors from the previous calendar year to attend a ceremony and receive a Medal of Honor engraved with their loved one’s name.

Originally, the ceremony was held in the State Capitol Rotunda, however, several years ago the event was moved to the lakefront Executive Residence to provide a warmer environment for this special event. This year, UW OTD and BCW/WDN were honored to host a record number of family members with 304 in attendance this year.

Following the tradition of hosting the event on a Friday morning in either July or August, this year’s event took place on Friday, July 27. Welcoming remarks were provided by Jill Ellefson, Service Line Director for UW Health Transplant and Organ Donation, followed by a donor family and transplant recipient who shared their personal testimonials. Governor Scott Walker shared his gratitude for the opportunity to welcome these families and acknowledge their immense generosity. Afterward, each donor’s name was read as their family took their picture with the Governor and his wife and accepted the medal.

Both OPOs are honored to be able to share this opportunity to bring donor families together for a remembrance ceremony. The feedback from families who are able to attend is always quite powerful with comments such as, “There are just not enough words to express how grateful and honored I was to attend the Gift of Life Ceremony. Thank you to all who organized the event and the incredible speakers. And to you those who remembered me and my son — thank you. You are an amazing and compassionate group of people and I am so very blessed to have had you in my life during the most difficult journey of my life. I am so proud of my son for making the choice to be an organ donor. He is a hero.”