By Tim Jimenez and Anita Oh
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Twelve-thousand people laced up their shoes Sunday morning for an annual run celebrating the lives saved through organ donations. There’s also a call for action to help those who still need to be saved.
At the 22nd annual Donor Dash on Eakins Oval, there are many people who know just how important organ donation is.
Ramona Howard experienced a demoralizing domino-effect.
“My liver failed first. My pancreas went next,” she said. “My intestines went after that and then my stomach went.”
After a long wait, she received all four organs from a single donor. So someone saying yes to donation on their driver’s license meant Ramona could live to see her sons graduate from college.
“When they walked down the aisle I stood and waved them on. It was a blessing to be there,” she said. “It’s a blessing to be here!”
And so Ramona is paying it forward.
“As soon as I was up and around and I went to renew my license,” she said. “As soon as they said, ‘do you want to be an organ donor,’ I said yes.”
Janet Dennis is a heart transplant survivor. With a new heart, she now competes in olympic-style competitions for transplant recipients.
“Since then I’ve earned 40 medals: 14 gold, 13 silver, 13 bronze,” Dennis said. “I gave most of my medals to my donor family, because you can’t see it but I have gold. My heart is the gold.”
According to the Gift OF Life Donor Program, there are currently 119,000 people in the U.S. waiting for a life-saving organ transplant. 5,400 of them are in the Philadelphia region.
Toby Minner landed on that list, and six years ago, he received a double lung transplant at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.
“It made a world of a difference in me,” Minner said. “I couldn’t walk 30 feet without having to stop and I got tired of oxygen tanks.”
But Sunday, without an oxygen tank, without assistance, he walked next to supporters like his grand-nephew, Austin Brachle.
“There are people on lists everyday who need these organs,” Brachle said. “Those lungs are now living in him and it’s just awesome.”
A new lease on life, thanks to donors like Zac Sweitzer, who was just 20 years old when he was killed by a drunk driver nine years ago.
“That day we got the phone call that our son was gone,” said Zac’s mother, Missy Sweitzer. “Six other people got a phone call and that’s what makes us smile.”
Missy says at age 16, Zac didn’t hesitate to designate himself as an organ donor, and she hopes others will do the same.
“It’s just proof again that donation absolutely works,” she said.