Donor Mom Celebrates Her Daughter by Promoting Organ, Tissue and Eye Donation

Ripple Effect


While Dawn Lyons-Wood changes the clothes she wears every day, there’s one part of her outfit that remains the same — her donor family pin. She wears it proudly in the hopes that others will ask her about it. When they do, she tells them about her daughter, Emily.


Emily was a Homecoming queen and a varsity girls’ golf captain. She was active in her community and church and attended college in hopes of becoming an optometrist. She was everybody’s best friend. And on February 28, 2015, Emily became an organ donor at age 19 after losing her life in a snowmobiling accident. She was able to give the gift of life to four different people and the gift of sight to two others. “Emily had signed up to be a donor when she first got her driver’s license at 16,” says Dawn. “We didn’t have to make the decision for her — she took the pressure off of us. I’m thankful for that every single day.”

Dawn Lyons-Wood speaking to an audience about the importance of organ, tissue and eye donation and her daughter's legacy. 

The day after Dawn came home to Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, after saying goodbye to Emily, UW Organ and Tissue Donation (UW OTD) social worker Christine Monahan called to check on her. The two had a very good conversation, and a couple of months later, Christine asked if she would be willing to tell her story at a church in Madison. “Once I talked to that congregation, I knew that was what I needed to do,” says Dawn. “I haven’t stopped talking since.”


In the three years since Emily died, Dawn and her family and friends have looked for every opportunity possible to remember the girl they loved. They sponsor an annual golf outing in her memory, donating half the funds raised to two scholarships in her name and half to the UW OTD donor education fund. They have created #emstrong bracelets, distributing them to anyone who wants a visual reminder of Emily’s legacy.


Dawn is also active on Facebook. She maintains the #emstrong page and comments regularly on UW OTD’s private Facebook page for donor families. The #emstrong hashtag allows her to see all the people who have been thinking about her daughter and dedicating events to her memory — even those she doesn’t know, like groups at University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, where Emily attended school. The bracelets have spread from person to person, allowing the ripple effect of Emily’s gift of life to extend far and wide.


As a volunteer, Dawn spoke at the UW Transplant Program’s 50th anniversary reunion and gala celebration. She also talks to driver’s education classes, at public events and in the media. “Public speaking was never my forte,” she says, “but when I start talking about Emily, I’m at ease.”


Dawn’s commitment to educating others was recently recognized with the Lion’s Eye Bank of Wisconsin’s Crystal Vision Award.


The motto of #emstrong is “Always be kind and live every day to the fullest,” because that’s how Emily lived her life. Dawn says she feels that motto has become her life, too. “I’m so proud of everything she did when she was here,” she says, “and I’m so proud of what continues to happen because of her.”


If you would like to join Dawn in giving to the UW OTD donor education fund, go to and select Organ and Tissue Donor Education Fund.