2016 Transplant and Organ Donation Calendar: Eric Gutierrez and the Mercy Hospital and Trauma Center Team

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Donate Life Wisconsin

Eric GutierrezWhen the Donate Life flag flew over Mercy Hospital and Trauma Center for the first time in July 2014, it was to honor 11-year-old Eric Gutierrez and the gift of life he had given.


Eric loved sports, skateboarding and playing guitar. He was a hard worker and willing helper. He loved riding horses and spending time with his brothers and sisters. "Eric would give the shirt off his back to help anyone, without expecting anything in return," says his mother, Rebecca. When he lost his life tragically, Rebecca knew without question that Eric would want to help others through the gift of organ donation.


The family's donation experience was guided by the staff of Mercy Hospital and Trauma Center in Janesville, Wis., including nurses Eric Abbott and Alicia Hartell, and Chaplain Nancy Leafblad. "We raise the Donate Life flag at the hospital in the presence of the family as a way to honor their gift and help bring closure to their experience at the hospital," says Nancy. Eric was the first patient for whom the flag was raised. "The flag raising experience was beautiful to me," says Rebecca. "I'm proud that Eric was able to make that happen."

Raising the Donate Life flag at Mercy Hospital


Nurse Eric Abbott, who is also a retired Marine, introduced the flag raising concept to the Forward Focus Collaborative, a group of hospital partners who share ideas and best practices to continually improve the donation experience for families. "The action of the flag being raised by the family offers a powerful symbol of the event taking place," says Eric. The flag then flies for 24 hours. "It's a powerful message when the hospital staff and community see the Donate Life flag raised," says Eric. "They know the ultimate gift has been given."


Rebecca and her family recently returned to the hospital to share their story. "It's very healing to be here today, and I'm grateful to the staff for their courage to care for my son and honor him," says Rebecca. "The staff was beyond amazing. They were so patient and understanding and made sure all of our family members' needs were being met."


"I may not be able to hold my son again, but because of him someone else will have that opportunity," Says Rebecca. "I hope people understand that if they can step outside of their pain and loss, they have the power with one single word, 'Yes,' to change not just the life of an organ recipient but the lives of family, friends and the many other lives that person could touch."