SALT LAKE CITY -- The annual Celebration of Life Monument Ceremony was held at the downtown Library Square Saturday morning, and 650 names were added to the glass memorial wall honoring those who donated organs, eyes and/or tissue.
Of those 650 people, 619 are deceased. The other 31 are living donors who gave livers or kidneys. Several speakers talked to a crowd of hundreds about the trials and tribulations those in need of an organ donation face.
Madison Richardson, 21, shared her experiences after receiving two cornea transplants, and she also shared the story of one of her donors.
“The donor for my first transplant was an 11-year-old boy named Levi Johnson,” said Richardson to the crowd of recipients and donors’ families. “He was hit and killed by a drunk driver December of 2014, and just three days after that, because of the selfless decision that his mom made, I was able to regain my sight.”
Richardson was legally blind by the time she was in high school.
“The disease that I have is a degenerative eye disease, and basically my eyes are mis-shaped," she said.
She said her teen years were a struggle.
“Just a lot of basic things that I wasn’t able to do, like drive, or I had to quit gymnastics because I could not see to compete," she said.
The hardest part of the surgery was not the surgery, she said.
“I dealt with feeling of feeling guilty," Richardson revealed.
Even without her eyesight, she said she could see things clearly.
“I knew with the loss of someone else's life was going to come a great life changer for me in a positive way, when someone else's life was going to be changing in a not so positive way," she said.
Her mom, Angela Richardson, has watched Madison learn about the value of life.
“The thing I am so proud of with Madison is that she doesn't take this for granted, and that she understands what a gift it is," Angela Richardson said.
Madison said her quality of life is why she had the surgery, but the real change was meeting her donor’s mother, Rhonda Johnson.
“It was very great meeting her, though I think it was very therapeutic for both of us, for her to see the difference her son's donation made and that I'm trying to do good with it. And it was great to meet her and be able to say, 'Thank you,'" she said.
That experience inspired her to want to help other recipients find their donor families.
“There is not a day that goes by that I don't think of my donors, and I am pushed every day to be a better person for them," she said.
Madison hopes to meet the family of the person who donated her other eye soon. If you want more information about organ donation or wish to register as a donor, click here.