LETTER FROM OUR PRESIDENT AND CEO

Kellie Tremain - CEO

Indiana Donor Network exists to save and heal lives through organ and tissue donation and transplantation. Each year, we challenge ourselves to improve, break through barriers and save even more lives. Last year was no exception – we once again broke the record for the number of organs transplanted in a calendar year, among many other achievements.

Our team cared for 471 organ donor heroes and transplanted 1,134 organs, ultimately saving 989 lives. An additional 1,394 tissue donor heroes saved and healed countless more.

These aren’t just statistics – these are incredible stories. They are stories about donor families deciding to save lives in the most difficult moments of their own lives, stories about transplant recipients who received a phone call that an organ was available with only days to live, and stories about our staff innovating and raising the bar of performance ever higher. They are all stories of hope.

Kellie Tremain, RN, MBA
President and CEO

Setting NEW RECORDS

Indiana Donor Network Saved More Lives than Ever Before

Keith Thrower is a living testament to the lifesaving power of organ donation.

Debbie Patterson remembers her son Nick as a funny, kindhearted man who loved sports and the outdoors, especially fishing. At 31, after battling heroin addiction since high school, Nick died from an overdose. Losing a second son to drugs was devastating, Debbie said. “Drug users and abusers think their lives are worthless. But we decided, no, Nick’s life isn’t worthless. We’re going to turn a tragedy into some positives,” she said.

Debbie and her husband Dan decided to donate Nick’s organs and save lives.

Today, Nick’s heart beats on inside Keith Thrower, a retired police officer from Wisconsin. Keith suffered his first heart attack in 2006 and underwent triple bypass surgery. A second heart attack 10 years later revealed he’d been living for years with congestive heart failure and undiagnosed Legionnaires’ disease. A heart pump was implanted and kept him alive for years. Other serious health issues sent Keith’s heart in sharp decline and he was placed on the national transplant waiting list.

Without a heart transplant, Keith’s doctors at one point predicted he would only live two more days. It was then that the call came. A donated heart from Indiana was a match for Keith – it was Nick’s heart.

“When I came to after my transplant surgery, I wanted to pay things forward and connect with my donor’s family to thank them and become a part of their lives,” Keith said. He reached out to the Pattersons through Indiana Donor Network, and the two families agreed to meet.

“I ain’t as tough a cop as I thought I was,” Keith said through tears as he hugged Debbie and Dan Patterson. He then asked if they wanted to listen to their son’s heart.

“This is amazing,” Debbie said. “To give life is the most important thing Nick or we as his parents could ever do.”

Thanks to Nick and his parents, Keith is alive today. He is in good health and full of hope. “I get to see my daughter graduate high school and my son graduate college soon,” he said. “Then, my wife and I are just going to travel and live and enjoy life.”

Debbie Patterson remembers her son Nick as a funny, kindhearted man who loved sports and the outdoors, especially fishing. At 31, after battling heroin addiction since high school, Nick died in from an overdose. Losing a second son to drugs was devastating, Debbie said. “Drug users and abusers think their lives are worthless. But we decided, no, Nick’s life isn’t worthless. We’re going to turn a tragedy into some positives,” she said.

Debbie and her husband Dan decided to donate Nick’s organs and save lives.

Today, Nick’s heart beats on inside Keith Thrower, a retired police officer from Wisconsin. Keith suffered his first heart attack in 2006 and underwent triple bypass surgery. A second heart attack 10 years later revealed he’d been living for years with congestive heart failure and undiagnosed Legionnaires’ disease. A heart pump was implanted and kept him alive for years. Other serious health issues sent Keith’s heart in sharp decline and he was placed on the national transplant waiting list.

Without a heart transplant, Keith’s doctors at one point predicted he would only live two more days. It was then that the call came. A donated heart from Indiana was a match for Keith – it was Nick’s heart.

“When I came to after my transplant surgery, I wanted to pay things forward and connect with my donor’s family to thank them and become a part of their lives,” Keith said. He reached out to the Pattersons through Indiana Donor Network, and the two families agreed to meet.

“I ain’t as tough a cop as I thought I was,” Keith said through tears as he hugged Debbie and Dan Patterson. He then asked if they wanted to listen to their son’s heart.

“This is amazing,” Debbie said. “To give life is the most important thing Nick or we as his parents could ever do.”

Thanks to Nick and his parents, Keith is alive today. He is in good health and full of hope. “I get to see my daughter graduate high school and my son graduate college soon,” he said. “Then, my wife and I are just going to travel and live and enjoy life.”

2023 Record Numbers: Organ

June and July were record months for organ recoveries, with each setting all-time highs for Indiana Donor Network. June saw 122 transplants, and then July saw 126.  
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Lives Saved
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Organs Transplanted
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Organ Donors
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Organs Recovered at our On-Site Facility

In addition to organs recovered by the Indiana Donor Network for transplantation, our import staff evaluated 28,562 organ offers and coordinated the acceptance of 473 lifesaving organs for the purpose of transplanting recipients here in Indiana.

2023 Record Numbers: Tissue

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Tissue and Cornea Donors
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Total Tissues Recovered
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Heart Valves Recovered
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Skin Donors
Corneas Recovered
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Bone Donors
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Musculoskeletal Tissues Recovered

The numbers above include several new records for tissue recovery, including heart valve, bone and cornea donors. Additionally, at 1,394 donors, total tissue donors reached their highest level since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Despite the increased volume of recoveries, tissue recovery staff maintained a 0.16% error rate, which is our second-lowest error rate ever.  

“Tissue recovery coordinators achieved these rates through careful attention to detail, support of one another and dedicated participation in training and onboarding,” says Amy Pruitt, manager of tissue services. “We are very pleased to know that their impressive efforts will result in more lives saved and healed through the gift of donation.” 

Maximizing Lifesaving Opportunities

Despite fewer deaths in our service area, we are seeing increases in conversations, authorizations and organ donors.

Having Indiana Donor Network staff available in-person and on-location in hospitals in a timely manner is among the most effective ways to ensure proper coordination and care of a patient who may be a potential organ donor. While the vast majority of donation cases have historically resulted from brain death diagnoses, medical advances have increased the possibilities of donation after circulatory death, or DCD. Over the past several years DCD donors have risen from 23 donors in 2016 up to 222 donors (accounting for 47% of total donors) in 2023. As a result, our staff has seen the volume of potential donors increase significantly over the past few years. We conducted donation conversations with over 200 more families in 2023 than in 2022.

In Q3 of 2023, a new department for referral response was created to increase the number of Indiana Donor Network staff at hospitals. These new referral response staff members have clinical backgrounds and will assist in patient testing, stabilization and evaluations during the critical moments when a donation opportunity could be lost. They have already increased our presence in trauma centers, increased the speed of Indiana Donor Network arrival on site, and improved the timeliness of medical evaluations. We project this strategic expansion will ultimately increase authorizations and donation rates moving forward.    

“Supporting our staff and our partners are key priorities in the business of saving more lives.”
– STEVE JOHNSON, CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER

Making Donation Happen

The Work Behind the Work

Click the images below to learn how these departments contributed to donation in 2023.

Dorie Beam

Member of the Process Improvement Department

Karen White

Member of the Finance Department

Robert Callahan

Member of the Information Services Department

Aaron McCraken

Member of the Supply Chain Department

Our process improvement staff worked with others in regulatory compliance, information services, creative services and business analytics to update and automate a secure process by which hospital partners submit data about patient deaths.

This change has created efficiencies for Indiana Donor Network staff, simplified the uploads for hospital partners and provided improved consistency throughout these data sets.

The finance team processed an additional 2,400 invoices and expense reports as compared to 2022. This is a 30% increase without any additional staff. The ability to process this volume is a result of focused productivity and software efficiencies by our dedicated staff. 
Information services staff support the entire organization with technology, cybersecurity and more. The IS team receives requests that span from simple fixes to complex problems, helping the rest of Indiana Donor Network to perform their responsibilities. The IS department received nearly 400 such requests per month in 2023, more than a 30% increase over 2022. Through added staff and increased efficiencies, the IS team has cut the average time needed to resolve a problem nearly in half, down to less than one day. 

The supply chain department handles ordering, receiving, inventory, kit-making and regulation compliance for over 64,000 total supplies used by Indiana Donor Network recovery staff each year. This year, the supply chain department strategically created and filled a new position: Supply Chain Procurement Specialist. By specifically focusing on purchasing activities, this position has helped increase order and delivery efficiencies while maximizing savings on supply purchases. Responsibilities also include an increase of internal supply audit activity to identify supply usage process opportunities.

Dorie Beam

Member of the Process Improvement Department

Karen White

Member of the Finance Department

Our process improvement staff worked with others in regulatory compliance, information services, creative services and business analytics to update and automate a secure process by which hospital partners submit data about patient deaths.

This change has created efficiencies for Indiana Donor Network staff, simplified the uploads for hospital partners and provided improved consistency throughout these data sets.

The finance team processed an additional 2,400 invoices and expense reports as compared to 2022. This is a 30% increase without any additional staff. The ability to process this volume is a result of focused productivity and software efficiencies by our dedicated staff. 

Robert Callahan

Member of the Information Services Department

Aaron McCraken

Member of the Supply Chain Department

Information services staff support the entire organization with technology, cybersecurity and more. The IS team receives requests that span from simple fixes to complex problems, helping the rest of Indiana Donor Network to perform their responsibilities. The IS department received nearly 400 such requests per month in 2023, more than a 30% increase over 2022. Through added staff and increased efficiencies, the IS team has cut the average time needed to resolve a problem nearly in half, down to less than one day. 

The supply chain department handles ordering, receiving, inventory, kit-making and regulation compliance for over 64,000 total supplies used by Indiana Donor Network recovery staff each year. This year, the supply chain department strategically created and filled a new position: Supply Chain Procurement Specialist. By specifically focusing on purchasing activities, this position has helped increase order and delivery efficiencies while maximizing savings on supply purchases. Responsibilities also include an increase of internal supply audit activity to identify supply usage process opportunities.

Sepsis Algorithm Implemented,
More Lives Saved

The staff who serve in our Vital Link Donation Center work 24/7 to navigate the complex path of donation. Handling an average of 524 referrals each week, VLDC staff are at the front lines of facilitating not only organ donation but also tissue donation, guiding our staff and external partners through each case.

In late 2022, Indiana Donor Network introduced a flow chart to clearly and quickly navigate the complexities of whether sepsis has damaged tissues to the point that tissue donation is not possible. Donation rates increased by 3.5% during a testing phase, which concluded in the spring of 2023. By implementing this procedure permanently, potential donors are more critically evaluated and additional donors were able to share their gifts in 2023 thanks to the enhanced accuracy our sepsis algorithm provides.

Moving with Urgency:
More Miles Driven Than Any Other Year

Donation can happen at any hour, any day, in any town in Indiana. With time being among the most critical factors for the health of donated organs and tissues, a stellar transportation team is paramount to get the gifts of life where they need to be as quickly and safely as possible.

In 2023, our drivers covered more open road than ever before, eclipsing 1.65 million miles by the end of the year. Steve Bales, a driver with Indiana Donor Network for three years, individually traveled 110,000 miles over 378 runs.

“I know that someone is at the other end of each journey, waiting for their miracle,” says Steve. “I am so proud to be a part of the mission of this organization.”

TxJet

Lifesaving flights for Indiana Donor Network and other OPOs spanned the Midwest, East Coast, and included transports as far as Seattle, Burbank and Miami. 

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Flights
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Miles Covered
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Flight Hours
In addition to regular lifesaving transports, TxJet captains and first officers maintain the highest standards of ongoing training. In 2023, our team of 21 pilots completed a combined total of 200 training hours. 
“Engaging the community to support our mission is where it all starts.” 
– EMILY KIBLING, DIRECTOR OF COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT 
In July, Indiana Donor Network partnered with Downtown Indy, Inc. to sponsor the entertainment stage for the pre-fireworks festivities at Downtown Indy 4th Fest. The event drew over 23,000 people, including thousands who experienced messaging about organ donation as they visited food trucks and street vendors, listened to live music and enjoyed an outdoor evening in our state’s capital. Indiana Donor Network staff activated a booth at the event for donor signups and in-person education, tracking over 1,100 conversations with attendees about the importance of donation. Additionally, speakers took the stage to share their experiences with organ donation with a culturally diverse crowd in between music sets and immediately before the fireworks show. 

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Youth Education Presentations

Staff educated over 135,000 young adults about donation and transplantation, including visits to 145 schools throughout Indiana.
Multicultural Community Events
Our added emphasis on reaching culturally diverse communities helped ensure a consistent message to all Hoosiers.
Events Reaching Older Adults
We found success in 2023 with those age 55+ signing up as organ donors, in part due to strategic focus on reaching this audience.

858

Youth Education Presentations

Staff educated over 135,000 young adults about donation and transplantation, including visits to 145 schools throughout Indiana.

76

Multicultural Community Events
Our added emphasis on reaching culturally diverse communities helped ensure a consistent message to all Hoosiers.

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Events Reaching Older Adults
We found success in 2023 with those age 55+ signing up as organ donors, in part due to strategic focus on reaching this audience.

Promoting Donation

Super Bowl Champion Dwight Freeney Promoting Donation

Spreading the message with liver transplant recipient, Eli Otero III.

When Eli Otero III was a child, his liver was failing due to Alagille syndrome, and in 2019 he was placed on the national transplant waiting list. When he traveled to Indianapolis from northwest Indiana for treatments, he and his family would plan their trips around sporting events, trying to make the difficult experience as fun as possible. Through those experiences, Eli became a huge Colts fan, just like his dad.

In 2020, at just 12 years old, Eli received his lifesaving liver transplant.

“It is the ultimate gift…it turned his life completely around,” said Eli’s dad. “He is going to do all the things that he’s been wanting to do as a kid.”

Eli and his dad were named the 2021 Colts Superfan of the Year and have been using this exposure to spread awareness about the importance of organ donation, including connecting with Super Bowl champion Dwight Freeney to promote organ and tissue donation. “Me and my dad have so much fun together,” said Eli when reflecting on their experiences since his transplant. “We have so many memories.”

In the fall of 2023, aligned with the start of the NFL season, Indiana Donor Network announced a partnership with Freeney, kicking off a campaign that included TV and streaming commercials, radio ads, billboards, digital ads, and both organic and paid social media.

“I heard the stat that one donor can save eight lives,” said Freeney, when sharing about his decision to work with Indiana Donor Network. “I think there are a lot of people who would be willing to do that. I mean, how could I not be a part of that?”

From September through December of 2023, our campaign with Dwight Freeney achieved 50 million public impressions. The impact of Dwight’s message and Eli’s story will be felt for years, as those Hoosiers say “yes” to organ donation.

When Eli Otero III was a child, his liver was failing due to Alagille syndrome, and in 2019 he was placed on the national transplant waiting list. When he traveled to Indianapolis from northwest Indiana for treatments, he and his family would plan their trips around sporting events, trying to make the difficult experience as fun as possible. Through those experiences, Eli became a huge Colts fan, just like his dad.

In 2020, at just 12 years old, Eli received his lifesaving liver transplant.

“It is the ultimate gift…it turned his life completely around,” said Eli’s dad. “He is going to do all the things that he’s been wanting to do as a kid.”

Eli and his dad were named the 2021 Colts Superfan of the Year and have been using this exposure to spread awareness about the importance of organ donation, including connecting with Super Bowl champion Dwight Freeney to promote organ and tissue donation. “Me and my dad have so much fun together,” said Eli when reflecting on their experiences since his transplant. “We have so many memories.”

In the fall of 2023, aligned with the start of the NFL season, Indiana Donor Network announced a partnership with Freeney, kicking off a campaign that included TV and streaming commercials, radio ads, billboards, digital ads, and both organic and paid social media.

“I heard the stat that one donor can save eight lives,” said Freeney, when sharing about his decision to work with Indiana Donor Network. “I think there are a lot of people who would be willing to do that. I mean, how could I not be a part of that?”

From September through December of 2023, our campaign with Dwight Freeney achieved 50 million public impressions. The impact of Dwight’s message and Eli’s story will be felt for years, as those Hoosiers say “yes” to organ donation.

Creating Awareness Through Strategic Marketing

Data includes Indiana Donor Network, Donate Life Indiana, and Driven2SaveLives combined.

Our “Gift from the Heart” campaign, including this video ad, resulted in 19 million impressions across Indiana during May and June.

  • 148,935,926 estimated impressions from paid media.
  • 1,262 media mentions and an estimated 926 million readers/views.
  • 57,253 followers across all managed social media platforms.

Data includes Indiana Donor Network, Donate Life Indiana, and Driven2SaveLives combined.

Driven2SaveLives logo

The Driven2SaveLives program raises awareness about organ and tissue donation within the racing community. In 2023, the program reached thousands of Hoosiers at more than 40 races across the state. Culminating the season at the annual BC39, a dirt track race took place inside turn three of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The event hosted over 10,000 race fans and put a spotlight on the importance of donation and transplantation in the racing community.

In 2023, the Driven2SaveLives ambassador program grew to over 500 ambassadors. Ambassadors have committed to help us end the wait for lifesaving organs by advocating for donation to their friends, family and community.

Monthly Sign-Ups to Donor Registry

“I left feeling educated and very proud of the work you do in collaboration with our hospitals to serve families.”
– Amplify Summit Attendee

We couldn’t do our work without the collaboration of external partners who are just as committed as we are to saving lives through organ and tissue donation. One important opportunity to deepen these relationships was at our Amplify Donation and Transplantation Summit, a full-day event held in October in which more than 300 healthcare professionals attended several educational sessions and networking sessions. Additionally, nurses and respiratory therapists who attended were able to receive continuing education credits for their time. Our post-event survey indicated that over 98% of respondents believed the event was well-executed, that they learned new information, and that they would recommend the event to a colleague.

Working with Partners

The Delicate Process of Successful Donation Conversations with Potential Donor Families

Several years ago, Riley Hospital for Children and Indiana Donor Network improved pediatric donation authorization rates by developing a program where a provider first introduces the concept of organ donation to a potential donor family. This program is now fully utilized at Riley and is referred to as “bridging language.”

With bridging language, a provider will use positive, value-added statements introducing the idea of organ donation and prepare the family for an introduction to the Indiana Donor Network team. Responses from donor families have shown that they feel most supported when both the hospital and Indiana Donor Network team collaborate to provide clarity. This approach promotes transparency, comfort and familiarity to the families of potential donors.

After the success with Riley, Indiana Donor Network began to introduce bridging language to providers throughout Indiana. In 2023, when bridging language was used by hospital providers in the most sensitive approaches, when a patient is not yet declared as brain dead or is a candidate for donation after circulatory death, authorization rates rose from 45% to 69%.

Additionally, “partner approaches” have been similarly utilized, showing a 5% increase in authorization rates in these same types of sensitive approaches. In these instances, Indiana Donor Network partners with nurses, chaplains or social workers, who joined an Indiana Donor Network team member during the initial conversation about donation. This process helps families feel safer and more comfortable as they have a familiar person present. The care and concern around these interactions have improved relationships with both partners and patients’ families while also leading to more lifesaving donations.

Online Learning

Our online educational platform, Discover Donation and Transplantation, launched in February 2023, providing on-demand education to partners and our own staff. Since its launch, over 1,773 learning assignments have been completed on topics including working with families of donor heroes, making case referrals and clinical care for organ donors.

Funeral Directors

We engage with funeral directors across Indiana throughout the year to provide education, support and advance lifesaving donations. In 2023, we added 21 new funeral homes to our Funeral Home Partnership Program, putting our total over 100. These funeral home partners go above and beyond to honor donors and support their families.

Coroner Outreach

In 2023, Dr. Roland Kohr joined Indiana Donor Network in the role of laboratory and forensic medical director. With Dr. Kohr’s expertise, we enhanced collaboration initiatives with coroners and pathologists throughout Indiana to maintain the integrity of death investigations while maximizing the potential for organ and tissue donation.

Volunteer Advocates Sharing the Message

Jill Nicholich promotes Strut 2 Save Lives on WISHTV’s Life.Style.Live! show.

Our network of advocates supported school and community education opportunities at dozens of locations around the state, as well as with other service projects that support the families of donor heroes. In 2023, Indiana Donor Network managed 345 such volunteers, coordinating over 16,000 service hours with these dedicated advocates.

Jill Nicolich has been an Indiana Donor Network advocate for eleven years, regularly supporting the aftercare services department among other activities. “I prioritize volunteering with Indiana Donor Network because of my deep desire to honor all donor heroes and their families,” said Jill. “I am helping to provide donor families with support during this difficult time, and my hope is they will know how grateful and forever thankful I am for the incredible gift of life.”

Indiana Donor Network Foundation Events

Raising funds and awareness in support of donor heroes, transplant recipients and their families.

Click the images below to learn more about these 2023 events.

Angel Fund Gala

Fore Life Open

Walk to save lives

Strut 2 save lives

This formal event supports the Foundation and its work assisting the transplantation and donation community in Indiana. It also provides hope and healing to the families of donor heroes through grief support programs. In 2023, the event raised nearly $56,000 for the Angel Fund.

120 golfers enjoyed a day at the Brickyard Crossing Golf Course to raise money for a good cause. In 2023, the event raised more than $50,000 for the Foundation.

At the Walk to Save Lives, attendees come together to celebrate life, honor organ and tissue donors, and promote awareness about the importance of donation and transplantation. More than 450 walkers participated and the event raised nearly $40,000 for the Foundation.

All proceeds for this event benefit the Indiana Donor Network Foundation Bryan Clauson Legacy Fund with contributions supporting the families of donor heroes by ensuring there are as few barriers as possible for a family to be with their loved one prior to and during donation. This year, more than 150 people participated in the event and raised more than $33,000 for the BC Legacy Fund.

Angel Fund Gala

Fore Life Open

This formal event supports the Foundation and its work assisting the transplantation and donation community in Indiana. It also provides hope and healing to the families of donor heroes through grief support programs. In 2023, the event raised nearly $56,000 for the Angel Fund.

120 golfers enjoyed a day at the Brickyard Crossing Golf Course to raise money for a good cause. In 2023, the event raised more than $50,000 for the Foundation.

Walk to save lives

Strut 2 save lives

All proceeds for this event benefit the Indiana Donor Network Foundation Bryan Clauson Legacy Fund with contributions supporting the families of donor heroes by ensuring there are as few barriers as possible for a family to be with their loved one prior to and during donation. This year, more than 150 people participated in the event and raised more than $33,000 for the BC Legacy Fund.

At the Walk to Save Lives, attendees come together to celebrate life, honor organ and tissue donors, and promote awareness about the importance of donation and transplantation. More than 450 walkers participated and the event raised nearly $40,000 for the Foundation.

“It is a privilege to serve our donor hero families as an important aspect of the work we do to save lives. We simply cannot honor their gifts enough.”

– Courtney Tillotta, Manager, Aftercare Support

Supporting Families

Support During and After Donation

Joy Armstrong describes Indiana Donor Network staff as a “welcome friend that I had never met before” while they facilitated organ donation for her son, Robbie.

After the death of her son, Robbie, Joy Armstrong has found comfort in knowing that his legacy lives on through his gifts of organ donation. Like many other loved ones of donor heroes, she and her husband Brad found solace in Robbie’s lifesaving final act – one that he had chosen when he signed up as an organ donor years before.  

“I knew I raised him right,” said Joy, reflecting on his decision. “Seeing that it was his choice meant a lot.”  

Robbie was born with a congenital heart defect, which the Armstrong family knew would eventually require surgery. He was a quiet, gentle young man, described affectionately as an “old soul” by others. After a childhood of farming, outdoors, and family, and with a love of music, he had reached 24 years old and had some tests completed to check on his heart, which showed a need for surgery.  

In January 2023, Robbie was among a very small percentage of patients who suffer a stroke after such a procedure.  

After all efforts to save Robbie’s life failed, the conversation shifted to donation.   

“I didn’t know how I would feel about donation, in that moment, even though in general I have supported it and understand its importance,” said Joy, reflecting on her conversations in the hospital. “When they turned that piece of paper around showing that he had already made that decision, it was very humbling. There was my child’s signature.”  

Indiana Donor Network team members collaborated with hospital staff to guide Joy and Brad through their most difficult days and ensure that they had a clear understanding of the steps that would occur throughout the donation process, and that the family had everything they needed in the midst of this tragedy. “Making sure we had eaten, offering tissues, or a warm blanket, or a bottle of water – they just thought of every single need we had,” she recalled. “They knew exactly how to explain everything we needed to know and were so gracious. It was amazing.”  

Among the most impactful moments of Robbie’s donation was an honor walk, which Joy describes as manifesting the importance of donation in a physical way. An honor walk is the moment when a donor hero is transported to the operating room for organ recovery surgery. Hospital staff and Indiana Donor Network team members line the halls to honor the donor, recognize the immense weight of the gift being given and show support for the donor’s family.  

“I was there when he was born, and wanted to be there when he was gone. It was a gift, and he went peacefully.”  

Joy and her husband Brad find it bittersweet to know that the worst day of their life was the answer to someone else’s prayer. Robbie went on to donate three organs for transplant and research, saving the lives of two recipients and positively impacting their families and communities.

Joy’s experience was so moving that she stepped on stage at the Indiana Donor Network Amplify Donation and Transplantation Summit to share her story with over 300 Indiana healthcare professionals in a conversation with the event’s emcee. She wanted to make sure that partners of Indiana Donor Network, who work with families just like hers, could hear how Indiana Donor Network staff helped to make her experience as meaningful and positive as possible.  

Joy’s willingness to speak directly impacted healthcare partners in attendance, with multiple post-event comments echoing this one from an RN in northwest Indiana: “I love hearing stories from donor families. It solidifies the role of every single person involved and the true gift that donation is.” 

After the death of her son, Robbie, Joy Armstrong has found comfort in knowing that his legacy lives on through his gifts of organ donation. Like many other loved ones of donor heroes, she and her husband Brad found solace in Robbie’s lifesaving final act – one that he had chosen when he signed up as an organ donor years before.  

“I knew I raised him right,” said Joy, reflecting on his decision. “Seeing that it was his choice meant a lot.”  

Robbie was born with a congenital heart defect, which the Armstrong family knew would eventually require surgery. He was a quiet, gentle young man, described affectionately as an “old soul” by others. After a childhood of farming, outdoors, and family, and with a love of music, he had reached 24 years old and had some tests completed to check on his heart, which showed a need for surgery.  

In January 2023, Robbie was among a very small percentage of patients who suffer a stroke after such a procedure.  

After all efforts to save Robbie’s life failed, the conversation shifted to donation.   

“I didn’t know how I would feel about donation, in that moment, even though in general I have supported it and understand its importance,” said Joy, reflecting on her conversations in the hospital. “When they turned that piece of paper around showing that he had already made that decision, it was very humbling. There was my child’s signature.”  

Indiana Donor Network team members collaborated with hospital staff to guide Joy and Brad through their most difficult days and ensure that they had a clear understanding of the steps that would occur throughout the donation process, and that the family had everything they needed in the midst of this tragedy. “Making sure we had eaten, offering tissues, or a warm blanket, or a bottle of water – they just thought of every single need we had,” she recalled. “They knew exactly how to explain everything we needed to know and were so gracious. It was amazing.”  

Among the most impactful moments of Robbie’s donation was an honor walk, which Joy describes as manifesting the importance of donation in a physical way. An honor walk is the moment when a donor hero is transported to the operating room for organ recovery surgery. Hospital staff and Indiana Donor Network team members line the halls to honor the donor, recognize the immense weight of the gift being given and show support for the donor’s family.  

“I was there when he was born, and wanted to be there when he was gone. It was a gift, and he went peacefully.”  

Joy and her husband Brad find it bittersweet to know that the worst day of their life was the answer to someone else’s prayer. Robbie went on to donate three organs for transplant and research, saving the lives of two recipients and positively impacting their families and communities.

Joy’s experience was so moving that she stepped on stage at the Indiana Donor Network Amplify Donation and Transplantation Summit to share her story with over 300 Indiana healthcare professionals in a conversation with the event’s emcee. She wanted to make sure that partners of Indiana Donor Network, who work with families just like hers, could hear how Indiana Donor Network staff helped to make her experience as meaningful and positive as possible.  

Joy’s willingness to speak directly impacted healthcare partners in attendance, with multiple post-event comments echoing this one from an RN in northwest Indiana: “I love hearing stories from donor families. It solidifies the role of every single person involved and the true gift that donation is.” 

Events for Families of Donor Heroes

Click the images below to learn more about these donor family events.

grief education with dr. alan wolfelt

gift of life celebration

remembrance wall event

Evening with dr. brittany clayborne

Indiana Donor Network invited author Dr. Alan Wolfelt, founder and director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition, to share his expertise in the area of grief and loss with staff, partners and donor families in April.

In April, Indiana Donor Network hosted its annual Gift of Life Celebration, with hundreds of donor family members in attendance to honor their loved ones.

The remembrance wall is an honorary display, updated annually, with the names of every donor hero from the past two years. In August, families and friends of donor heroes were invited to make impressions of their loved ones’ names and engage with Indiana Donor Network aftercare services staff for grief support and other resources.

Indiana Donor Network brought renowned speaker Dr. Brittany Clayborne into town for multiple presentations. Over three days, she shared her inspiring and motivating story as a heart transplant recipient at our all-staff meeting, at the Amplify Donation and Transplantation Summit and at a special event for the families of donor heroes.

grief education with dr. alan wolfelt

gift of life celebration

Indiana Donor Network invited author Dr. Alan Wolfelt, founder and director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition, to share his expertise in the area of grief and loss with staff, partners and donor families in April.

In April, Indiana Donor Network hosted its annual Gift of Life Celebration, with hundreds of donor family members in attendance to honor their loved ones.

remembrance wall event

Evening with dr. brittany clayborne

The remembrance wall is an honorary display, updated annually, with the names of every donor hero from the past two years. In August, families and friends of donor heroes were invited to make impressions of their loved ones’ names and engage with Indiana Donor Network aftercare services staff for grief support and other resources.

Indiana Donor Network brought renowned speaker Dr. Brittany Clayborne into town for multiple presentations. Over three days, she shared her inspiring and motivating story as a heart transplant recipient at our all-staff meeting, at the Amplify Donation and Transplantation Summit and at a special event for the families of donor heroes.

Support After Donation

  • 17,571 Interactions with donors’ next of kin by the aftercare services team of Indiana Donor Network, offering one-on-one support, grief resources, and ways to honor their loved one.
  • 48 Donor Honor Guard ceremonies completed in 2023. These take place during funerals of donor heroes, recognizing and honoring the gift of life with friends and family present.
  • 2,725 Family members, including children, of donor heroes received guidance and support to help them navigate their grief journeys, including many whose kids attended Donor Hero Camp at no cost.

In 2023, the aftercare services and tissue services teams at Indiana Donor Network began offering all families of tissue donors impressions of their loved ones’ thumbprints.

“We are all so proud of the work we did in 2023, but it’s important to remember it all starts with a donor hero’s choice to say yes.”

– Kellie Tremain, President and CEO