Lifeline of Ohio Presents Awards to Champions of Organ, Eye and Tissue Donation

Donation champions were celebrated at Lifeline of Ohio’s Champions of Hope Gala, held October 8, 2022. Individuals and organizations were honored for their roles in saving and healing lives through organ, eye and tissue donation.

The keynote address was given by Kacey Johnson, a tissue recipient and a Columbine High School survivor, who shared her story of healing, while honoring her tissue donor.

In addition, the Legacy Award was presented posthumously to the family of Ron Packard, a two-time liver recipient and former Lifeline of Ohio employee, who passed away in December of 2021. Ron was instrumental in creating a foundation for many of the education programs that are still in place at the organization today.

The full list of award winners is below.


A Note from our CEO, Andrew Mullins

“We are so pleased to be able to honor our partners for the important roles they play — from registration of the donation decision to caring for recipients, our donors and their families and patients waiting for their lifesaving gifts.”

Award Honorees

Criteria for these awards focus on five key tenets that impact our ability to move the mission of donation forward. These tenets are Advocacy, Collaboration, Innovation, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and Compassion. This year, 47 individuals were nominated by their peers and colleagues for outstanding contributions to the lifesaving and healing mission of donation. Awards are categorized by the first name or organization name of the winner.

Alex Brooks, The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center’s Richard M. Ross Heart Hospital - Hospital Donation Champion


“Donation opportunity deserves better.” That is a direct quote from Alex Brooks, who is a staunch advocate for donation at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

She has an active voice in the monthly Donation Council meetings and works to improve the culture of donation on her hospital floor by organizing educational opportunities and taking time to meet in person with Lifeline of Ohio’s donation program coordinators.

Alex is always looking for ways to streamline processes and has been proactive in continuing her own education and knowledge of donation.

Alice Hutzel-Bateson, Knox Community Hospital - Hospital PR Champion

Alice Hutzel-Bateson eagerly shares the donation message throughout Knox Community Hospital, where she works in public relations.

Collaborating with Lifeline of Ohio during this past April’s Donate Life Month, she shared internal messages about donation to hospital employees and organized a donor registration table and a quilt display.

Lifeline of Ohio has 15 quilts created by donor families, with each patch on the quilt honoring a specific donor. In April, when one of the quilts was displayed at Knox Community Hospital, a donor mom saw the quilt and realized it was the one her daughter was featured on. The mom was overcome with gratitude that her daughter was honored in this way. Because of Alice’s efforts, a light continued to be shone on this donor’s legacy.

Darlene Middlebrooks-Smith, Great Southern Deputy Registrar, BMV - BMV Champion

“Would you like to be an organ, eye and tissue donor?” That’s the question that all employees at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles ask when a new applicant or unregistered individual applies for or renews their driver’s license or state ID card. That’s the question that our BMV Champion knows is more than just words on a screen.

As Deputy Registrar of the Great Southern BMV in Columbus, Ohio, Darlene Middlebrooks-Smith knows those words are an open door for someone to heal and save lives. She’s been a strong advocate of donation for many years and also has a personal connection to donation which drives her advocacy—her nephew is a recipient and her sister had been a long-time volunteer before her passing in 2018.

For our winner, this message isn’t just a work responsibility – it’s a personal commitment to helping others.

Dr. David Ralston, Mount Carmel St. Ann’s - Physician Champion

To save and heal lives. It’s the shared calling of every hospital physician and every employee of Lifeline of Ohio. It’s what Dr. David Ralston of Mount Carmel St. Ann’s Hospital does every day as a physician specializing in critical care, pulmonary and sleep medicine.

Because of his interest areas of asthma, COPD and lung disease, Dr. Ralston knows that many of his patients need, or will need, a second chance at life through lung transplantation. In his 30 years of career experience, he has been a tireless advocate for the importance of donation.

His sensitivity and care toward his patients as well as his positive demeanor with hospital staff and Lifeline of Ohio staff highlight his commitment to the good health of his community.

Rev. Donna Morley, Retired Chaplain, OhioHealth Grant Medical Center - Hospital Spiritual Care Champion

Rev. Donna Morley, retired from OhioHealth Grant Medical Center, received multiple nominations, which speaks to her dedication and positive impact on the families and hospital employees she’s worked with throughout her career.

Rev. Morley has always advocated for organ, eye and tissue donors and their families, as well as for the recipients and their families. She’s been a leader on the OhioHealth Grant Medical Center Donation Council and helped create a Donor Wall of Heroes where donor families can display photos of their loved ones.

Throughout her career, she’s provided education about the importance of donation, volunteered to teach at orientation classes for new staff as well as provided on-the-spot education in the critical care department.

She was a beacon of light for donor families, providing comfort and hope in some of the darkest moments of their lives. And although she recently retired as a critical care chaplain in May of this year, there is no doubt her legacy will continue to be felt in the years to come.

Hoskinson Funeral and Cremation Service - Funeral Home Champion

Sometimes, providing comfort comes in the form of going above and beyond for a grieving family, which is what employees of Hoskinson Funeral and Cremation Service did recently when a hospital pre-released a patient to this funeral home.

Lifeline of Ohio hadn’t been informed until late in the evening when donor transportation services arrived at the hospital to pick up the patient. Lifeline of Ohio staff quickly contacted the funeral home and spoke with Greta Blegvad who answered our questions and assured us that her coworker, Ethan McKee, would head out immediately to meet the driver at the funeral home.

The quick action and willingness these two employees took provided the donor’s family with peace of mind that the opportunity for donation would be preserved.

Jeremy Daugherty, Mount Carmel Grove City - Donation Liaison Champion

Jeremy Daugherty’s passion for donation and compassion for people is evident. With more than 30 years of OR experience, he’s seen what processes work and what donor families need.

He helped organize the Honor Walk process throughout Mount Carmel Grove City and ensures that a Donate Life flag is flown in honor of each donor. After each flag is flown, he delivers it to the donor family’s home and presents it to them so they have it in time to display at their loved ones’ funeral services.

Jeremy partners with Lifeline of Ohio on events and is always looking for ways to improve communication, education and processes regarding donation. He also serves on our Medical Advisory Board, helping to provide oversight for effectiveness and protocol.

Jim Middleton, Trinity Health System - Hospital Executive Champion

Someone once said, “Serving others prepares you to lead others.” And that is especially true of Jim Middleton of Trinity Health System, who displays the qualities of a servant leader.

As Chief Nursing Operator, Jim has been instrumental in organizing staff education focused on donation, as well as forming a Donation Council within his hospital. He helped organize an Honor Walk recognizing the first organ donor at his facility in more than five years and held a flag-raising ceremony during Donate Life Month in honor of this donor and their family.

Through his passion for saving and healing lives, he continues to raise awareness for organ, eye and tissue donation and has the very special gift of bringing others along with him on that journey.

Jim Scott, Ohio HOSA - Outreach Partner Champion

An effective leader brings together people and vision, which is what Jim Scott of Ohio HOSA does in his position as State Advisor. HOSA is a student-led organization that promotes career opportunities in the health industry on a global scale. Through Jim’s efforts, Lifeline of Ohio has had an active role in educating members, hosting events, sponsoring competitions and representing on HOSA’s community board.

Because he believes in the mission to save and heal lives, he continues to bring together students, healthcare workers and procurement professionals in a collaborative environment so that now and in the future, donation is a positive and respected consideration.

Dr. Kent Harshbarger, Montgomery County Coroner Office - Medical Examiner/Coroner Champion

For the past two decades, Dr. Kent Harshbarger of the Montgomery County Coroner Office has brought professionalism and a sense of community partnership to his positions as deputy coroner and coroner. Although he’s busy, he always takes the time to respond to questions kindly and promptly, which is imperative when moving forward with a potential donation.

He’s an expert in forensic pathology, and his open-mindedness and forward-thinking have impacted the donation process and allowed for the building of positive relationships between Lifeline of Ohio and his office.

He embodies our mission of saving and healing lives and truly understands and respects the timely process of donation.

Lesly Gatton, Community Tissue Services - Community Partner Champion

Knowledge. Passion. Dedication. Collaboration. These are just some of the adjectives used by Lesly Gatton’s colleagues to describe her.

As the Recovery Partner Director at Community Tissue Services in Kettering, Ohio, Lesly has had the opportunity to collaborate on numerous cases with the Lifeline of Ohio tissue team. Post-recovery, she is always providing data and solutions to the team to improve outcomes, increase efficiencies and maximize the quality of the healing gifts given from selfless donors.

Lesly is a natural teacher, not only in the physical aspects of tissue recovery, but in the importance and impact that proper recovery can make in the lives of so many. She clearly displays knowledge, passion and dedication to the field of tissue and eye donation.

Licking Memorial Hospital - Donor Hospital Champion

Organizations are successful because of the systems they put into place to support people and processes. Licking Memorial Hospital has done that through the implementation of its electronic notification system to relay pertinent medical information during the donation process.

This creates an improved workflow for hospital staff while also ensuring no opportunity for donation is overlooked. We are excited as they are the first hospital in our area to take on this project and we look forward to the positive impact it will have on donation.

In addition, Licking Memorial also participates in the Workplace Partnership for Life Campaign. For the 2021-22 campaign year, they received the top Platinum award for their efforts, which included education to new employees, presentations at staff meetings, participation in National Blue & Green Day, Donate Life Month activities, social media highlights and much more.

Through committed leadership, staff dedication and systems innovation, Licking Memorial continues to live its mission of improving the health of the community.

Missy Korb, The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center - Transplant Center Champion

One of the most healing things a transplant recipient can do is to write a letter of gratitude to their donor’s family. Even though a response is never guaranteed, just the act of writing can provide a sense of peace.

Although Missy Korb with The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center works on the transplant side of the donation process, she has been an important advocate for Lifeline of Ohio. When the Covid pandemic prevented our staff from visiting recently transplanted patients on a regular basis, she stepped up and helped facilitate the process by giving recipients information about letter writing to their donor families.

Missy’s support through this process has allowed numerous recipients to reach out and connect with the families of donor heroes—those who provided lifesaving and life-enhancing gifts of donation.

Morrow County Hospital - Tissue Hospital Champion

The importance of tissue donation cannot be overstated, especially for those recipients who experience incredible healing and life enhancement because of it. The team at Morrow County Hospital knows what a difference this can make and are fully committed to honoring a person’s decision to become a donor.

From July 2021 thru June of this year, Morrow County Hospital has had four tissue donors, potentially enhancing the lives of more than 300 people. In two of these cases, staff members went beyond what was required to make donation happen. Their referral system is outstanding and a model for helping maximize the opportunity for donation. We appreciate and thank the team who helped facilitate these donations.

They also participated in the Workplace Partnership for Life Campaign, which recognizes and encourages organizations to bring awareness to organ, eye and tissue donation through outreach activities. Employees participated in donation-related trivia contests, participated in National Blue and Green Day and promoted donation through internal communication.

Rebekah Risner, Mercy Health - St. Rita’s Medical Center - Nurse Champion

Rebekah Risner of Mercy Health St. Rita’s Medical Center was asked to reenergize and lead her hospital’s mission to ensure a culture of second chances. She took what she was asked to do and brought it to another level!

She creatively went to work and organized a successful Blue and Green Day this past April with the theme “Wild about Organ Donation.” The event included a donation discussion which engaged the hospital teams through a Donate Life flag raising. Her hard work resulted in 18 new registered donors!

Rebekah also created a “donor corner” with hospital stats, goals and ways that staff could help the hospital reach those goals.

All of her efforts helped her hospital earn a Platinum Award—the highest recognition for donation promotion efforts through the Workplace Partnership for Life program sponsored by the Health Resources and Services Administration.

Southern Ohio Medical Center (SOMC) OB/GYN Associates - OB/GYN Practice Champion

Recently, the Lifeline of Ohio Placenta Donation Program celebrated the milestone of 1,000 placentas donated! This wouldn’t have been possible without the commitment of our partnering hospitals and OB/GYN practices.

We are proud to honor Southern Ohio Medical Center (SOMC) OB/GYN Associates with the OB/GYN Practice Champion Award. They have set up efficient systems for educating patients and referring interested patients to the placenta donation program.

Office Manager Bekah Kemper is a donor daughter, and her passion for donation shines through in her work. She teamed up with her hospital colleague, Theresa Ruby, and the two of them presented information to the hospital’s Service Board, highlighting the importance and impact of placenta donation.

In just a year’s time, SOMC OB/GYN Associates has become an engaged and committed partner to Lifeline of Ohio’s Placenta Donation Program.

Southern Ohio Medical Center - Placenta Hospital Champion

Our Placenta Hospital Champion Award goes to Southern Ohio Medical Center (SOMC). They have implemented a gold-standard process for Labor and Delivery staff to facilitate placenta donation. Maternity Nurse Manager Theresa Ruby had the excellent idea to engage the maternal educator to share about placenta donation with eligible moms.

SOMC is one of our top placenta donation programs with more than 60 placentas donated so far. These donations have the potential of providing more than 4,000 healing grafts for those with medical needs. The staff at this hospital go above and beyond to make placenta donation possible for their patients.

Legacy Award - Ron Packard

The Lifeline of Ohio Legacy Award is bestowed on an individual who has demonstrated exemplary advocacy, influenced public awareness and made an impact on the understanding of organ, eye and tissue donation.  This year, the award was given posthumously to Ron Packard, whose family accepted on his behalf.

Marilyn Pongonis, retired former Director of Public Relations for Lifeline of Ohio, worked with Ron for many years and wrote the following tribute.

As a college student, Ron was diagnosed with Sclerosing Cholangitis, an ultimately fatal disease with no known cure. His only hope for a future was a liver transplant, which he received in the fall of 1994.

 Initially, his liver functioned well, but complications eventually brought him back to the hospital and back on the transplant list. In spring of 1995, the gift of a second hero changed the trajectory of his life. This transplant was a complete success and became the impetus of a lifetime dedicated to honoring his donors.  

 In the months following his transplant, he was unable to return to working full time and seized the opportunity to begin volunteering at Lifeline of Ohio, fulfilling speaker requests. Telling the world the story of his second chance at life and the difference one person can make as a donor became his healing therapy. Eventually, Lifeline of Ohio hired him as a part-time educator and eventually, with his doctors’ blessings, he became a full-time employee.

His influence has been far-reaching:

  • He’s personally responsible for educating thousands of young people in high schools across Central and Southeastern Ohio about the importance of their donation decision.
  • He trained and mentored hundreds of Lifeline of Ohio volunteers, guiding the evolution of the Volunteer Training program over 20 years.
  • His contributions led to the inclusion of donation education in Ohio’s driver’s education programming.
  • In 1998, he took on responsibility for a Lifeline of Ohio Dash for Donation 5K, growing it into the organization’s largest public awareness event for more than 20 years.
  • He helped support legislation and policy issues impacting donation — and passionately shared his story before the Ohio General Assembly and countless state committees throughout the years.

 But if asked, he would say the true legacy of his donors is his children, James and Joy. Both the fulfillment of a dream made possible only through the generosity of two strangers who shared the Gifts of Life with him.

 Sadly, following a long illness, he passed in December 2021. But his influence lives on, in not only the lives of his family and friends, but also in the thousands of people he impacted through his storied career with Lifeline of Ohio.