Washburn Football Uses Personal Tragedy To Promote Organ Donation

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Washburn university is receiving a national award this weekend for its support of organ and tissue donation.

The campus not only hosts the "Run for Life" each spring, the football team has used a personal tragedy to raise awareness of the issue.

Junior tight end Tore Hurst is a key ambassador in the effort. He met Jermon Watson on his first Washburn football visit and they quickly were inseparable.

Hurst says the young man who would become his roommate was "big" and "scary" at first glance, but he loved to laugh and loved to be around people.

In June 2011, after a redshirt freshman year, Watson was killed in a car accident. Hurst says he was the first person close to him that he'd ever lost.

It t was tough for Washburn Coach Craig Schurig, too, which is why he didn't hesitate in supporting Watson's family with a decision that allowed his spirit to live on.

In a video created for the Midwest Transplant Network, Watson's family shares how, just a few months earlier, Jermon and his brother informed the family they'd both decided to become organ donors. When the accident happened, Watson's family followed his wishes.

The football team honored his memory last season, raising awareness by players rotating what would have been Watson's number 20 jersey. They also talked about the issue with their players and had displays at games, encouraging fans to make the decision to donate life.

Schurig says he was most struck by the importance of organ donation when he learned Watson had saved or improved more than 50 lives through the organs and tissues doctors took from his body.

Stormont-Vail HealthCare's organ procurement coordinator Angie Meyer says there are about 150,000 people currently on the transplant list. Every 10 minutes, she says, another name is added to that list. She says talking about the decision with family members before the worst happens can make it easier for wishes to be followed.

She says its a decision that often helps bring closure. In the face of losing a loved one, she says, families can be comforted in knowing they gave another family's loved one another chance at life.

Washburn will again spread the word with an awareness event at its Nov. 10 football game versus Emporia State.

Hurst will have the honor of wearing his friend's number 20. For him, it's no surprise that Watson, in death, chose to share his life.

"Helping people was in his character," Hurst said. "For him not being alive but still helping people through organ donation is a blessing."

Washburn will be presented the National Donate Life Champion Award Saturday before kickoff of the Emporia State game. The Midwest Transplant Network also will have a table set up with information for people to join the donor registry.

Incidentally, Topeka's Stormont-Vail HealthCare and St. Francis Health Center recently received medal of honor awards from the Dept. of Health and Human Services for their organ donation efforts.

Complete news release from the Midwest Transplant Network:
WESTWOOD, Kan. – November 7, 2012 – In recognition of Washburn University’s outstanding support of organ, eye and tissue donation, Midwest Transplant Network (MTN) has partnered with Donate Life Kansas and Donate Life America (DLA) to present the Ichabods with a national Donate Life Champion award at Saturday’s football game against Emporia State at 1 p.m. This award, in its inaugural year, is given to select figures from the athletic community who have inspired others to give the gifts of life, sight and mobility. Other national Donate Life Champions include the Detroit Tigers, Michael Jordan, Charles Tillman (Chicago Bears), Boomer Esiason, Erik Compton (PGA Golfer) and Danell Leyva (USA Gymnast).

Washburn University received the award because of its support of donation through activities like the annual Run for Life 10-mile race in April and the event at last year’s first home football game honoring football player, Jermon Watson, who tragically lost his life last summer and saved the lives of several as an organ donor.

Thanks to the efforts of Washburn University, countless people have already been inspired to join the Kansas Donor Registry. Each fan that joins the Kansas Donor Registry at donatelifekansas.com in Washburn’s honor will be known as a “FanForLife”.

The Donate Life Champion awards and FanForLife campaign are key parts of a bold national initiative to increase organ, eye and tissue donation. As part of their “20 Million in 2012” campaign to register 20 million new people to state organ donor registries this year, more than 50 Donate Life Champion awards will be given to well-known athletes, teams and other role models within the sports community who have demonstrated remarkable support for donation.