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

Donation champions were celebrated at the Champions of Hope Gala, held October 14, 2023. Individuals and organizations were honored for their roles in saving and healing lives through organ, eye and tissue donation.

The keynote was former Cincinnati Bengals football player and donor father, Elbert “Ickey” Woods. He shared his son’s story of saving five lives through organ donation and the hope that Jovante’s gifts brought to others.

The full list of award winners is below.


Legacy Award

The Lifeline of Ohio Legacy Award was presented to Ryan Zinn, a 35-year heart transplant recipientThis recognition 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. Through more than three decades, Ryan has lived up to this award and so much more by spreading donation awareness throughout the country and beyond. 

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, 70 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.

Adena Women's Health OB/GYN and Adena Women's Health OB/GYN Blackwater Road - OB/GYN Practice Champion

Since 2019, Lifeline of Ohio’s Placenta Donation Program has grown exponentially to include 23 partnering hospitals and approximately 90 OB/GYN offices throughout Central and Southeast Ohio and Wood and Hancock counties in West Virginia.

We are proud to honor Adena Women’s Health OB/GYN and Adena Women’s Health OB/GYN Blackwater Road with the OB/GYN Practice Champion Award. This award-winning team is committed to the placenta program, with approximately 300 referrals called in to date. The surgery schedulers at both offices ask every eligible patient if they would like to donate and also share information about how placental grafts help others.

The staff at both offices are always willing to assist with needed medical records and ensure that lines of communication are clear between their offices and Lifeline of Ohio.

Bernita Watson, Marietta Memorial Hospital - Donation Liaison Champion

“High expectations,” “Incredible compassion,” “Thoughtful and helpful”—these are all terms used to describe Bernita Watson. She has worked tirelessly over the past year to enhance the consistency of referrals and the quality of care for all patients.

Even though she oversees four units, Bernita found the time to review and revise every policy and procedure related to donation within the organization, ensuring that each aligns with the policies of Lifeline of Ohio. This was no small feat.

She ensures that the opportunity for donation is maximized every time. She personally plans each Honor Walk, spends time with donor families and supports hospital staff throughout the process.

In one instance, Bernita helped organize an Honor Walk for one of our Heroes in Spirit. This beautiful tribute was held to honor this individual and help the family and the staff cope with such a tragic situation.  This Honor Walk touched the lives of the hundreds of people who participated. Her compassion in her everyday work touches countless others.

Brooke Taviano, Mercy Health – St. Rita’s Medical Center - Hospital Donation Champion

Brooke Taviano is the epitome of grace under pressure. During a particularly difficult case, she was able to guide a donor family and hospital staff through the donation process, using her gifts of wisdom, knowledge, patience and compassion.

In this case, there were several factors to consider, including the varied emotions of many family members trying to process the sudden and shocking death of a loved one and the intense stress the hospital team was under. Through her steadfast leadership, she worked with all parties involved, showing the utmost care and respect to all.

Brooke helped coordinate a beautiful Honor Walk, which gave the family a sense of comfort and pride, and in the end, the donor hero was able to save three lives. 

Chelsea McVay, The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center - Nurse Champion

One of Lifeline of Ohio’s core values is “inspire innovation,” which perfectly describes Chelsea McVay,  our Nurse Champion Award winner. As an active participant in her hospital’s monthly donation council meetings, she works to improve overall donation processes on her unit through innovative ideas.

For example, Chelsea is working on medication protocols for her nurses on donation after cardiac death cases along with a variety of other protocols.

She also collaborates with Lifeline of Ohio to present donation data to her unit to encourage staff and demonstrate how valuable their work is to saving and healing lives. She continually keeps open communication with Lifeline of Ohio’s Donation Program Coordinator assigned to her hospital and is an active voice during the donation process.

On top of all that, she also supports our annual Dash for Donation, representing the neurosciences critical care unit of her hospital!

Connor Drake - BMV Champion

The Bureau of Motor Vehicles is the frontline of donor registration in the state of Ohio. Every person applying for a license or state ID is asked if they’d like to register to be a donor. And every time that question is asked, it has the power to save and heal lives.

Connor Drake takes this responsibility seriously and has collaborated with Lifeline of Ohio on several initiatives that bring donation awareness to the community. One is a personalized, coordinator-specific, Customer Support Card to be handed out by BMV clerks when customers are in need of support or connection.

In addition, Connor has worked with our community outreach team to provide information tables at BMV locations throughout Franklin County, in key areas, to dispel misconceptions and to register new donors. He truly makes a difference.

Genesis Hospital - Placenta Hospital Champion

The award-winning labor and delivery team at Genesis Hospital consistently shows compassion to patients and collaborates with Lifeline of Ohio. They are strong advocates for donation and always reach out with concerns, questions and suggestions to improve donation opportunities for their patients.

On the extremely rare occasion of a missed opportunity, they meet the challenge with professionalism and an eagerness to improve. Genesis Hospital celebrated its 200th placenta donation milestone in early 2023!

Jeffrey Smith, Licking Memorial Hospital - Hospital Spiritual Care Champion

For many people, their job is considered a “calling.” And that’s how it is with Jeffrey Smith. After starting his career in pharmacy, he eventually received a calling for a different purpose.

He was ordained as a minister in January 2007 and earned a Master of Divinity degree with a concentration in Pastoral Ministry from Trinity Theological Seminary.

Jeffrey’s gift of knowing what a staff member, patient or donor family member needs in a particular moment is inspiring. The person who submitted this nomination said, “I’ve seen him do something as small as making sure a donor’s significant other ate breakfast that morning, and I’ve seen him do big things such as walking behind a donor family during an Honor Walk to make sure they felt his support. Because he supports every patient equally and without judgment and is dedicated to hospital staff as they navigate the trials of their everyday work, he is admired and well-respected by our organization, in his hospital community and beyond.”

Although he retired from his position with the hospital this past May, there is no doubt his legacy will continue to be felt by those whose lives he touched.

Karie McWherter, Delaware County Coroner’s Office - Medical Examiner/Coroner Champion

There are those who do what is expected and then there are those who go above and beyond expectations. The latter describes our Medical Examiner/Coroner Champion, Karie McWherter.

Although she’s only been with the Delaware County Coroner’s Office since 2022, she has extensive experience as a diener, assisting during autopsies and as a death investigator since 2011. When a death occurs in a person’s home, a referral for donation isn’t mandatory. However, when Karie’s work placed her in a situation last year, she called Lifeline of Ohio’s Donation Support Services and made a referral. Lifeline of Ohio then worked with the deceased person’s family to facilitate tissue donation.

In addition to this advocacy, her office’s website has a direct link to Lifeline of Ohio’s website, showing the organization’s support of organ, eye and tissue donation.

Laurie Labishak, Trinity Health System - Hospital PR Champion

Knowing what to say, which platform to use and when to deliver a message is the important job of a hospital’s public relations and marketing department. During Donate Life Month, Laurie Labishak did an incredible job of facilitating a Facebook Live discussion with Trinity Health’s nurse leader, a Lifeline of Ohio representative and a donor family member.

Laurie’s ability to balance education and compassion throughout the conversation was truly remarkable, and she worked to ensure there was media coverage of their Donate Life Month flag-raising and other events throughout the year.

She serves on the hospital’s Donate Life Committee and continually looks for ways to integrate the donation message into the hospital’s social media and website, as well as community events. And, she continues to collaborate with committee members to honor donors and support their families.

Marlan J. Gary of Marlan Gary Funeral Home Chapel of Peace and Lori Diaz of Affinity Memorial Chapel - Funeral Home Champion

Although they manage different funeral homes, Marlan J. Gary of Marlan Gary Funeral Home Chapel of Peace and Lori Diaz of Affinity Memorial Chapel teamed up to participate in a podcast through our Rooted in Life campaign, where they helped address misconceptions in the Black community surrounding donation, provided education about funeral services and encouraged people to register their donation decision.  

One of the key points of the discussion was to reassure listeners that organ donation does not prevent someone from having a dignified and meaningful funeral service. Using materials such as those provided by Lifeline of Ohio, these funeral home champions work diligently to prepare donor heroes for viewing. Both Marlan and Lori feel it’s vital to continue outreach and education, especially within the African American community, to eliminate disparities within the industry and provide everyone with the proper information so they can make an informed decision.


Dr. Matthew Exline, The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center - Physician Champion

Serving for more than 20 years in the medical field, Dr. Matthew Exline not only brings a wealth of knowledge to his position but also the care and compassion that developed through years of experience working with patients and families. He brings out the best in his staff and is available during active donation cases to help with issues that arise.  

Dr. Exline was instrumental in implementing the streamlined iReferral process at his hospital this past summer and is actively working on donation after cardiac death order sets to go live, which will help streamline the donation process even further.

An active participant in his hospital’s monthly Donation Council meetings, he demonstrates genuine effort in collaborating with Lifeline of Ohio to save and heal lives.

National Pan-Hellenic Council of Columbus - Community Partner Champion

African Americans are three times more likely to need a lifesaving transplant than any other ethnicity. The National Pan-Hellenic Council of Columbus teamed up with Lifeline of Ohio to launch “Rooted in Life”— an immersive multimedia campaign featuring all nine Black Greek-letter organizations and 14 local chapters of The National Pan-Hellenic Council of Columbus. The campaign goal is to raise awareness of organ, eye and tissue donation within the Black community and improve the health of the community.

The campaign features representatives from the Black Greek letter organizations, who shared their personal stories as organ and tissue recipients, donor family members and patients waiting for their lifesaving gifts, in hopes of inspiring others to say “yes” to donation. NPHC’s focus on service, leadership and combating socio-economic obstacles makes it a symbol of unity within the African American community.


OhioHealth Grady Memorial Hospital - Donor Hospital Champion

OhioHealth Grady Memorial Hospital is a partner that views every donation opportunity as the chance to go above and beyond in providing the best care for donors, their families and their staff.

During one case, Lifeline of Ohio’s Surgical Recovery Specialist team arrived on-site not knowing what to expect and anticipating heavy education needs. However, upon their arrival, they were met with completely prepared facilities.

The room had been set up with the utmost compassion for the needs of the donor family. The hospital staff made sure there was ample seating and plenty of privacy coverings and even provided for the smallest details, including making sure tissues were within reach of family members. In addition, the OR was completely prepared, and hospital staff were ready to facilitate the organ donation process. A beautiful Honor Walk was held, and many staff members participated, providing support to the donor family as they honored their loved one in their lifesaving journey.

OhioHealth Grady Memorial’s drive, continued investment in learning, as well as their commitment to providing the most uplifting experience possible for donor families, never waver.  

OhioHealth O’Bleness Hospital - Tissue Hospital Champion

When it comes to advocacy, OhioHealth O’Bleness Hospital is a true partner in donation. The staff understands the importance of tissue donation, especially for those recipients who experience incredible healing and life enhancement because of it. As of October 2023, OhioHealth O’Bleness has had five tissue donors and was proud to honor all donors during a flag-raising held during Donate Life Month.

OhioHealth O’Bleness routinely requires all new nurses and PSA’s to have an hour of donation education during their new nurse orientation.

They participated in the 2023 DoNation Campaign, sponsored by the Health Resources and Services Administration, and received a Gold Recognition Certificate for promoting awareness of organ, eye and tissue donation.

OhioHealth O’Bleness understands that a call to Lifeline of Ohio can significantly impact peoples’ lives as they continue to build a culture that honors the gifts of donation.

Rachael Subleski, Nationwide Children’s Hospital - Transplant Center Champion

Rachael Subleski is truly passionate about donation. She has laid the foundation for a donor memorial garden at Nationwide Children’s Hospital (NCH) and continues collaborating with her colleagues and others throughout the organization to move the project forward.

She was instrumental in organizing and carrying out NCH’s first pinwheel ceremony during Donate Life Month 2022 to honor donors and their families. Rachael has also organized additional activities, such as donation registration tables and information about Donate Life Month shared on the hospital’s social media platforms.

She continues to look for ways to build a positive culture of donation within her hospital. Her determination and leadership are matched only by her care and compassion for donor heroes, their families and recipients.

Taft Law, S.T.A.R. Award

Our S.T.A.R. award recognizes the values of Service, Teamwork, Attitude and Respect. Tim Nagy and Caryn Kaufman of Taft Law embody these values.

Every donation is unique, and there are many dynamics to carefully navigate to ensure the best possible outcome for the donor hero and their family.

This year, Lifeline of Ohio worked on an extraordinarily complicated case. Due to the complexity, Taft was called upon for their expertise.

Taft worked tirelessly and quickly to bring multiple parties together for a conversation and decision. Because of their advocacy and expertise, the family’s decision to donate was honored and lives were saved and healed.

Tauana McDonald, Mount Carmel Grove City Hospital - Hospital Executive Champion

The late musical artist, Prince, once said: “Compassion is an action word with no boundaries.” And Tauana McDonald exemplifies this. As a hospital executive, she has fully supported Mount Carmel Grove City Hospital’s (MCGC) initiatives to honor their donors and support donor families.

During this past year’s Donate Life Month, MCGC held a special flag-raising to honor their donors. In addition, one donor family was invited to a special luncheon afterward, where their donor hero’s favorite meal was served. During the event, MCGC’s executive team intentionally wore green and blue – the Donate Life colors.

They also hosted a week-long donation information table to help bring awareness and encourage people to say “yes” to donation. Fostering an environment of care and compassion, where activities such as these are encouraged, speaks to Tauana’s character.

She leads with compassion and kindness and empowers her colleagues to do the same. She also has supported the creation of a Wall of Heroes at the hospital, which will honor those donor heroes who have given the gift of life and healing through organ, eye and tissue donation.