July 17, 2024

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Local News: Posters unveiled at DMV honor organ donor and a recipient to raise awareness (6/28/24)

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Kimmy and Angela Spann unveiled a poster of their son Tyler, whose organs and tissues have helped 72 recipients

State Gazette photo/William Northcutt


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On Monday, June 24, at the Dyersburg Driver Services Center, posters honoring a young organ donor and a liver transplant recipient were unveiled. The event, sponsored by Donate Life Tennessee, Mid-South Transplant Foundation, in collaboration with the Department of Safety and Homeland Security, was designed not only to honor donors but to raise awareness of how organ donations save lives.

Kimmy and Angela Spann of Lexington, Tennessee came to Dyersburg to unveil a poster of their son Tyler, who died in a tragic drowning on a family trip to Panama City Beach, Florida.

Mimi Smith of Henning, Tennessee, recipient of a liver transplant came to unveil a poster documenting how her life as an organ recipient saved her life.

According to Tennessee Department of Safety District Manager Holly Powers, “Ninety-eight percent of all registered organ and tissue donors register at Driver Services Center.” She said the hope is that the posters “will serve as a reminder to everyone that by simply agreeing to register as an organ and tissue donor, lives will be saved.”

Tyler Spann’s parents are involved in water safety education and have helped to organize events in honor of their ‘”Donor Hero” son. Angela Spann said, “Tyler died on June 16 [2018]. We had been in Florida for less that 24 hours. He was caught in a riptide.” Kimmy Spann said that they started a foundation in his honor, and Angela added, “So we do a lot of things for water safety. We…provide swimming lessons, life-jacket borrowing stations at lakes.”

Kimmy Spann explained why they were involved in this campaign. “Today is a special day for both of us, unveiling the poster,” he said. “The poster is being put up in driver’s license centers,” he stated, “and we’re hoping that we’ll encourage more people to be organ donors.”

Tyler Spann’s mother said her son was kind and a great athlete, a perfect donor candidate.

State Gazette photo/William Northcutt

Angela Spann said, “We want people to know that young people can be donors as well.” Asked how she would characterize her son, she said, “He was very young, 15. He was kind,” and she added, “He was an excellent athlete which made him a very good candidate for donation.” His father said, “He kept us busy with sports,” and his mother added, “He played every sport.”

She noted that his “gifts” of organs and tissue have saved or helped 72 lives. “One of those whose life was saved was an infant boy in California,” she said.

Asked whether Tyler’s gifts have helped with the grief, Angela said, “It helps. Of course we miss our Tyler, but we are happy to know that someone may not have to go through what we’ve gone through because of Tyler’s donations.”

Mimi Smith received a liver from another donor in 2022. It saved her life.

She said, “My story began in 2016. I became ill. We thought it was tick bite, but it turned out to be Wilson’s disease.” The autoimmune disease shut down her liver. “In 2021,” she said, “I was put on a ventilator for several months. I didn’t think I was going to make it.” When they removed the ventilator, her vocal cords were paralyzed. She said, “I couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t sing.”

The crisis came to a head. “In 2022,” she continued, “I was admitted into the hospital, and they said, you can’t leave until you get a liver. I thought, I don’t want to be here waiting six months to a year.” She was put on the organ waiting list at the end of January, and just a few days later, received her liver.

Mimi Smith (r) and Tennessee Department of Safety staff unveiled a poster of Smith as a reminder to patrons at the DMV that organ donations save lives

State Gazette photo/William Northcutt

She stated, “I can’t explain the difference it has made, not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually. I just want to tell everybody.”

She says she thinks of the donor every day. “All I know about him is that he was 46 years old, that he was on life-support, and that he was from Georgia,” she said.

“I have not had one hiccup, not one,” she exclaimed. “You know what?” she added, “God does amazing things, and I am one of his amazing things.”

Like the Spanns, she came to spread the word about donations. “Our communities are not as educated as they should be on the donor process,” she said, “so we do what we can do.”

Her recover has been so complete that she is competing with other organ donor recipients in special contests in Birmingham, Alabama, next month. “I’ll be running a 5K,” she said, “I’ve made the semi-finals in a vocal contest.”

According to the Mid-South Transplant organization, Every day in the U.S., approximately 110 lives are saved through donation and transplantation, yet more than 100,000 men, women, and children await their lifesaving organ transplant. Those interested in being an organ, eye, and tissue donor, can find out more at DonateLifeTN.org.


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