Organ donors, recipients share stories for National Donate Life Month

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Sunday, April 23, 2017
Vigil held in honor of National Donate Life Month
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April is National Donate Life Month and Loyola University Medical Center is thanking organ donors, while encouraging more people to sign up, to give the gift of life.

MAYWOOD, Ill. (WLS) -- April is National Donate Life Month and Loyola University Medical Center is thanking organ donors and encouraging more people to register to give the gift of life to those in need.

Every year organ transplant donors, patients and doctors gather to share stories about their experiences.

"If it wasn't for somebody that decided to be a donor six months ago, I wouldn't be here in front of you today," said John Bak, a transplant recipient from Lindenhurst.

Bak, a 42-year-old father of two, got a rare heart-kidney transplant after experiencing severe heart failure. Now, he's back to normal.

"There's no way to pay something like that back," said Bak. "There is no way to pay it forward other than to live your life in a way that is meaningful to others."

Melissa Gilbert, an Oak Park police officer, received a liver transplant last summer. She plans to marry her firefighter fiancé on the one-year anniversary of that life-saving operation.

"It was the most scared I've ever been," Gilbert said. "I'm not the type of person who's used to being the one in need. That was hard."

While many sign up to donate after their deaths or donate to family members in need, some people, like Tom Hanch, signed up to be a living donor after watching this organ transplant story on ABC 7 last year. A 25-year-old man he has never met now has one of his kidneys.

"Nothing has happened to me like that in my life. It was something I knew I had to do," said Hanch.

There are over 100,000 people waiting for an organ transplant nationwide. In Illinois, 4,700 are waiting for an organ transplant.

Illinoisans can register with the Secretary of State's Organ/Tissue Donor Registry at, by calling 1-800-210-2106, or visiting their local Drivers Services facility.

People who live in Indiana can visit and those in Wisconsin can visit for information on registering to become an organ donor.