A volunteer firefighter in Waterbury, Vermont, died Monday, waiting for a liver transplant. Mandy Morse, 47, was also a teacher and mother of two.
"She was a great mother," said Morse's friend, Chief Gary Dillon of the Waterbury Fire Department. "She fought a long, hard battle, and she fought it courageously. But even the strongest person can only fight so long. And she just ran out of fight."
A longtime liver disease she was born with left Morse needing a transplant, Dillon said. Dillon told necn he had even offered part of his liver to Morse. He said he was at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota testing for live transplant compatibility when he learned his friend passed away.
According to Mike Thibault of the Center for Donation and Transplant in Albany, New York, there are about 123,000 Americans now on a list hoping a donation comes through for them. About 17 of those folks will die each day, waiting, Thibault said.
Thibault said Vermont ranks 47th out of all the states when it comes to people signing up to pledge to become organ donors in case of tragedy. He said nationally, about 45 percent of people have made such a pledge, but that the figure in Vermont is lower. He did praise the state for changing its approach to signing up organ donors, which has increased participation rates, he said.
Donna André of Brushton, New York lost her son, Ben, in a car crash back in March. André said several of Ben's organs, including his heart, went to people who desperately needed them. Nurses and doctors at the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington cared for Ben after the wreck, and that's where surgeries to remove his organs were performed, his family said.
"Ben became a gift," André said. "Out of this tragedy, if we can bring life or hope to someone else, it seems like a no-brainer to me. There's a slogan that says, "Don't take your organs to heaven. Heaven knows they're needed here.'"
Thursday, the UVM Medical Center committed to flying a flag reading "Donate Life" for a week every time someone like Ben André makes a life-saving gift. That flag will then go to the donor's loved ones for them to fly or to keep at home.
Donna André said she treasures her organ donation flag, and that she thinks of Ben every time she hears the flag blowing in the wind.
"To really give tribute to the family that has made such an incredible gift of life in our community," said Eileen Whalen, the president and chief operating officer of the UVM Medical Center, describing the meaning behind the flags. "This is such a celebration for our community. We want to proudly, boldly, very clearly fly this flag so everyone in this community knows that out of a senseless, tragic death, there's life."
From 2008 through the end of June 2015, the UVM Medical Center has helped 62 organ donors and 115 tissue donors give the gift of life to those in need of life-saving organ and tissue transplants, the hospital said.
At the UVM Medical Center, surgeons perform pancreas and kidney transplants. There are currently 77 people waiting for those types of donations in the area the hospital serves. For other types of surgeries, such as a heart transplant, a Vermont patient would be likely to travel to a facility in New York City or Boston, hospital staff noted.
Just one month before Mandy Morse died, she married a fellow firefighter, Stanley Morse, whom she called her best friend, according to her obituary. Their colleagues hope raising awareness of organ donation may help another couple out there make it to many more anniversaries.