CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Flags are going up and stories are being shared in recognition of the critical role organ donation plays in overall health and wellbeing, and in saving lives.

Those from the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department and CORE, the Center for Organ Recovery and Education met for a flag raising ceremony Wednesday to observe National Donate Life Month.

According to Donate Life America, more than 100,000 people across the country currently await organ, tissue, and cornea transplants– and according to CORE, nearly 500 of those patients are in West Virginia.

However, the national campaign not only raises awareness of the need of organ donation, but honors the deceased and living donors, as well as celebrates the many lives that have been saved through receiving a transplant.

Pam King is a local living donor who shared her story at Wednesday’s ceremony, and she had an amazing story to tell.

“I would imagine, you know, I’m not a clinician, I’m just a living donor and my husband is a recipient, but we have been the benefactors of an incredible scientific effort,” said King.

After King’s husband was in need of a kidney transplant back in 2017, she was ready and willing to donate one of her own kidneys to him, but they soon came to find out that she wasn’t a match.

However, through the hospital’s transplant waiting list, they eventually found another local family who would help save her husband’s life.

King said it was a father and son– the father needed a kidney, as well, and the son was going to give him his, but they too turned out not to be a match with one another either.

That’s when King became the match to the father looking for a kidney and the son became a match to her husband, and in January of 2018, the couple was part of the first-ever living donor “paired exchange.”

King now works with CORE in helping to encourage others to become a donor, as she said you just never know how much it could change someone’s life for the better.

“We call it the big ask, the big give, because it is a big ask to ask someone to donate a kidney, but the initial process is very simple, it’s a blood test,” King said.

Cheryl King

West Virginia Community Outreach Coordinator for CORE, Cheryl King, said in 2023, CORE, along with their hospital partners facilitated over 900 organ transplants and over 1,000 cornea transplants. She said that made the fifth consecutive year the not-for-profit organization increased its numbers in transplantation and donation.

King said they are always looking for more donors, as it’s a crucial gift that keeps on giving.

“When you think that your loved one is gone, this is the last gift they can give, and a part of them will still be alive and will keep people alive,” Cheryl King said.

Wednesday’s ceremony marked the first time the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department came together with CORE to hold a Donate Life event.

Dr. Steven Eshenaur,

KCHD Executive Director and Health Officer, Dr. Steven Eshenaur, said their partnership with CORE actually started last year when they began offering the opportunity to sign up to become an organ donor to clients who came into the health department. He said they wanted to make people aware of its significance.

“We felt like it was very important to educate West Virginians about, not just the importance but the opportunity to donate an organ,” he said.

Eshenaur said while there are around 500 West Virginians waiting to receive an organ, those willing to donate is much more slim.

“Only about 1 in 3 West Virginians are currently signed up to be an organ donor, so this is an opportunity to provide hope for those in need, life-saving need,” said Eshenaur.

Those who might be interested in becoming an organ donor can register through Donate Life, or they can sign up when they go to get their hunting and fishing license or driver’s license.