Tree of Life ceremony honors organ donors

Organ recipients, families of donors gather at UF Health Jacksonville

By Joy Purdy - 5:30, 6:30 & 11 p.m. anchor

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A heartwarming ceremony Tuesday at UF Health Jacksonville honored those who have given the gift of life. 

Families of organ donors and many who have received lifesaving organs gathered to remember and reflect during the Tree of Life ceremony. 

The angelic sounds of The Silhouettes, a group from Douglas Anderson School of the Arts, set the tone for the time to reflect and remember those who, in death, helped others. 

UF Health has also created a Tree of Life mural to honor families of organ donors who have passed forward a gift of life to someone they never knew. 

For Mary Elbell, donating her child's organs after saying goodbye gave other families more time with the ones they love.

"I have had the privilege to see the difference it makes, and know that this can go on for generations to come," Elbell said. 

During the ceremony, a flag was raised to salute the selfless acts of love.

Organ recipient Tyrone Brisby told the attentive crowd how thankful he was for the family who gave him their 14-year-old son's heart.

"When you've been given a second chance at life, you stop and really appreciate life. You really do. You spend time, more with the family, more with the kids," Brisby said. "Little things in life -- saying, 'I love you,' give them a hug -- it really means a lot because, in the end, that's what you have. You have family."

Dr. Brian Yorkgitis said being the doctor privileged to transfer the gift of life from donor to recipient is priceless.

"I would see such tragedy on our ninth floor, and then hope restored back on our second floor," said Yorkgitis, assistant professor of surgery at UF Health Jacksonville. "To hear a heart upstairs on the ninth floor, and then again on the second floor -- renewing life was such a privilege as a human, as a father and as a son."

UF Health Jacksonville reports that 14 of its patients became donors last year, and those donors' gifts saved 40 people's lives.

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