CORBIN — The gift of life was celebrated and honored on Friday at Baptist Health Corbin as the hospital and Kentucky Organ Donor Affiliates hosted a ceremony honoring organ donors, recipients and their families on Friday.
"April is Donate Life Month, a month to celebrate those who receive transplants, to recognize those that continue to wait and to recognize the donors and their families and to thank the registered donors for giving hope," Baptist Health Corbin President Anthony Powers said.
Kellee Edwards Whitlock, a reporter and city editor at The Times-Tribune from 1993 to 2005, was the honored organ donor during Friday's ceremony.
Her husband, John Whitlock, and daughter, Kate, raised the Donate Life flag in honor of her memory and her last act of compassion to make someone else's life just a little bit better, as her husband described.
"If you knew my wife, Kellee Edwards, you weren't surprised the final act of her life would be one of generosity," Whitlock said. "If you knew my best friend, Kellee Edwards, you weren't surprised even if she faced her mortality, her final act would be to help other people."
In February 2016 Edwards was diagnosed with small cell lung cancer.
"She fought hard, she fought very hard," Whitlock said, noting Edwards did go into remission for a brief time.
Whitlock said they talked about the "what-ifs" sometimes and one of the things she wanted to happen was for her organs to be donated to KODA.
"I think knowing that she might die but helping a total stranger along the way offered her a lot of peace," Whitlock said.
The cancer spread to many of Edwards' organs before her death and only her corneas could be transplanted.
"I'm sure Kellee would be disappointed," Whitlock said. "But I find comfort in that, I realize it doesn't work this way, but I like to think that two people who received Kellee's corneas, one from Louisville and one from here in Corbin, are walking around with her eyes and maybe one day I'll lock eyes with a stranger and look into Kellee's eyes."
Connor Quillen, an organ recipient, was also honored during Friday's ceremony.
His mother, Jodie Hoskins, told Quillen's story of him being born with a rare liver disease that caused him to be sick most of the first eight years of his life. At that point it became obvious that he was going to need a liver transplant to survive and two months after being placed on the donor list, he received a liver.
Now 11 years later, he is getting ready to attend his senior prom, graduate high school and attend college in the fall.
"The only reason any of that is possible is because a very selfless family made a decision to donate their child's organs and to give Connor and other sick children like Connor the gift of life," Hoskins said.
Baptist Health Corbin has partnered for years with Kentucky Organ Donor Affiliates to educate the community about the need for organ donors, Powers said.
"Depending on age we are five to six times more likely to need an organ transplant in our lifetime than we are to actually become an organ donor because there's so many factors in organ transplantation that have to be just right for organ transplantation to happen that any time there's a match between an eligible donor and an eligible candidate, it is truly a miracle," the Rev. Alice Tremaine said during Friday's ceremony.
Corbin Mayor Suzie Razmus also attended the ceremony and signed a proclamation declaring April National Donate Life Month in Corbin.
You can register to be an organ donor at donatelifeky.org.