Renata Krzyston, a Gift of Hope Aftercare Specialist, was at work on Aug. 31, 2016, when her mother called to let her know that Renata’s 37-year-old brother had passed away. “He’d been feeling ill and went to the hospital where he was told he had the flu and sent home,” Renata said. “He asked my mother to make him chicken noodle soup, and when my parents delivered it to him the next day they knew it was more than a flu. They called 911, but by the time the ambulance arrived my brother was lifeless. He was septic due to pneumonia, and just like that he was gone.”
Renata’s role at Gift of Hope is to offer aftercare support to donor families after their loved ones have offered the gift of organ and tissue donation. Through their personal loss, Renata and her family joined a community of families that she’s worked with intimately for the past five years. “More than ever, I understand our donor families,” said Renata. “When a loved one passes, you don’t want to let any part of that person go. You want to keep them with you. The best and only thing we could do for my brother was to honor his decision to donate.”
Renata was deeply moved by the outpouring of support she received from her colleagues and peers. “I was enveloped by our staff,” she said. “I found myself going through what our donor families go through, and I felt inundated with love.”
The passion Renata feels about Gift of Hope’s mission and her role in the donation process is evident in her tireless dedication to her work. While she began her professional journey in nuclear medicine technology and ultrasound technology, Renata is not at all shocked that she found her true calling when she started working as a Donor Resource Coordinator at Gift of Hope five years ago. “Back then, Donor Resource Coordinators also spoke to grieving families about the opportunity of organ donation, something Donation Specialists do today,” Renata recalled. “That part of my role had an unbelievable gravitational pull on me.”
While she worked in the Donor Resource Center, Renata dedicated her spare time to Donor Family Services. “For some reason, I gravitated toward that department and to the role of supporting families through their grief,” said Renata. “I was thrilled when the opportunity for an Aftercare Specialist became available, and I was certain that this was where I was meant to be.”
Since joining Gift of Hope’s Donor Family Services Department in September 2015, Renata has been instrumental in developing, strengthening and increasing post-donation support, programs and resources offered to more than 2,000 organ and tissue donor families each year. “Our donor families are extremely kind, generous, compassionate and wonderful,” said Renata. “We want to do everything we can to support them. Their loved ones offered the gift of life, and we want to be there for them and somehow give back to them through services that really make a difference.”
These are some of the events and workshops that Gift of Hope offers throughout the year to educate, inform and support donor families. For more information visit giftofhope.org.
- Writing Workshops, which facilitate donor family and transplant recipient communication.
- Donor Quilt Square Workshops, which provide tips and creative ideas for donor families to create personalized quilt squares with love, words and images of loved ones remembered.
- Memory Box Assembly, where donor family members, transplant recipients, Ambassadors for Hope volunteers and Gift of Hope staff members gather to build hundreds of these donor family keepsakes, which include a booklet of donation information and resources, a donor medallion, bracelets and Gift of Hope lapel pins.
Donor Family Services also works with donor family-formed foundations that generously provide additional support to donor families. These include the Kyle Zuleg Foundation, Kyle Shines On, the Flamini Foundation the Tristen Scott Foundation, the Will B. Foundation, the Cody Simons Memorial Foundation and others.
Donor Family Services brings the donation process full circle. Aftercare Specialists like Renata are inherently understanding, caring, and remarkably empathetic and compassionate. “Grief and sadness are part of the role, but that’s OK because we get to give back to our families,” Renata said. “We get to give them support, resources and information, and we get to cultivate these beautiful relationships. My colleagues and I can stand by our families during their grief and wipe their tears or just listen. Our donor families are not alone. We are here for them every step of the way.”