Thousands of Illinoisans are waiting for an organ or tissue donation. Earlier this year 13 News employee and long time Rockford journalist Mark Mayhew passed away.
Mark was loved by friends, family and us here at WREX. His death was a shock to many.
While Mark is gone, that isn't the end of his story because he was an organ donor. The man who gave so much to those around him continues to give, even after he's gone.
Mark Mayhew was 60-years-old when he died. Our dear co-worker, assignment editor and friend, he impacted everyone he met along his journey.
When Mark took his final trip home in January, it left a void in our newsroom and our hearts.
He also left a void in the heart of his longtime girlfriend, Sylvia Markley, who said it was love at first sight between them.
Sylvia knows the feeling of losing a loved one. "He was a solid, loving, caring person who made my life richer," Sylvia says. "And it was a time in my life that my son had just died, so he was there as a comfort to me."
After losing her son to muscular dystrophy and another suffering from the same disease, it's a feeling that has become too well known for her. But a pain comforted by Mark.
"We were buddies, you know? Really good friends," Sylvia says. "We shared a lot of the same interests."
An interest in music, old movies and cars, but it was the interest in each other that was the real treasure.
Like Mark was there for Sylvia during the loss of her son, Sylvia was there for him after he had open heart surgery in May 2016.
"He was doing really, really good," said Sylvia. "We were working on it as a team. I was making sure he was eating healthy and he was making sure he was exercising. It seemed like everything was going great."
It was going great. Great until Mark got done with one of his regular workouts on a Friday evening on the treadmill.
Recalling that day Sylvia said, "He knew something was happening. He just looked at me and said 'oh my gosh dear' and passed out. Those were really the last words I heard him speak."
The last words she heard from Mark, but she found comfort in conversations she had with him earlier about organ donation. Conversations that brought her comfort when difficult decisions needed to be made.
Emily O'Brien was Mark's nurse while he was at SwedishAmerican Hospital in Rockford. She says conversations like Mark and Sylvia's can bring peace of mind to loved ones after they have gone.
The critical care nurse says, "What a blessing it can be to actually have conversations with your loved ones about their wishes. It's taking that decision off of the spouse or the family and having to make those decisions when their loved ones can't. That was a gift Mark gave to Sylvia."
Peace of mind is a gift that Mark gave to Sylvia, but with organ and tissue donation his impact goes much further.
Mark died just 108 days ago. In that time his corneas were given to two people so they could have the ability to see. On top of that, 75 people have been healed by his tissue.
Doctor Yaser Zeater, a Pulmonologist at SwedishAmerican, has seen countless stories like Mark's and he has seen the impact that being an organ donor can have on families. "You don't need that organ after a neurological death," Dr. Zeater said. "But you're giving a second chance of life to that family or person who needs it."
Dr. Zeater says that organ donation is becoming more prevalent today. Just through SwedishAmerican Hospital, 2,100 lives were improved and saved through both organ and tissue donation in 2016 alone.
"People should think about it because if their family member died a neurological death they can keep their heart, their lungs, their tissue alive," Zeater says. "Which is a good memory for them in a different body."
This isn't the first time Sylvia has experienced loss in her life. She has sadly lost two sons, Phil and Ken, both to muscular dystrophy. She lost Ken just three weeks ago.
A tough road for an incredibly tough woman, she finds comfort by the gifts her loved ones have given to others. "To know somebody else out there is seeing the world through Marks eyes, my son Phil donated his eyes, that was the most comforting thing," she says.
A gift to others, but also a gift to her.
"Yes organ donation is a wonderful thing to be the recipient," said Sylvia. "Their life is going to change. But to the family who lost a loved one or had a loved one die, it's a gift to them too. When you give the donation of your organs, or your tissue. or your eyes as a person grieving the loss of someone, there's a comfort in it."
Organ donation won't bring Mark back, but it will mean he will continue to live through the people he so generously healed.
Thank you Mark, we miss you.