Changing Lives Through Organ Donation
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Finger Lakes Donor Recovery Network > Organ Donation and Organ Transplant Stories > Surrounded by Dignity and Respect, Our Daughter, Heather, Gave the Gift of Life

Surrounded by Dignity and Respect, Our Daughter, Heather, Gave the Gift of Life

Despite having to struggle with diabetes since she was 18 months old, Heather Semans was a fighter.

Described by her family as being “a butterfly who lived freely,” 36-year-old Heather saved a stranger’s life in January 2015 by donating her liver.




Heather Seman

HEATHER SEMANS: “A butterfly who lived freely.”


My wife, Jan, and I are “snowbirds.” We live in Western New York during the summer months, and then migrate to Florida when the weather gets colder. We have a son, Scott, and a daughter, Heather, and this story is how we learned the real meaning of “The Gift of Life” and its effect on our family.

On January 8, 2015, Jan and I received the phone call that no parent wants to get. It was the Strong Memorial Critical Care Unit notifying us that Heather, at the age of 36, was admitted, and we needed to get there as soon as possible. We made arrangements to be in Rochester by noon of the next day.

We also contacted Scott and told him the news that no sibling wants to hear. He immediately went to the hospital to see what was happening with his sister.

On our arrival, we were taken to the hospital by friends of Scott who had spent the night with him in the ICU. Upon entering Heather’s room, we saw Scott holding his sister’s hand as she was being kept on a respirator. We were updated on her condition but it was not good.

Later that day, more tests were conducted and it was determined Heather’s brain was no longer functioning. We were given our privacy as we grieved and prayed as a family for our loss.

A Difficult Life

Heather had a difficult life, developing type 1 diabetes when she was only 18 months old. As her life progressed, she was challenged both physically and socially.

The diabetes caused many seizures that eventually affected her ability to reason and cope with life skills. She was a fighter and always tried to maintain an independent life. To us, Heather was a butterfly who lived freely.

After some time alone with Heather, we were asked by a staff member if we would consider her as an organ donor. Because she was on the respirator the entire time, the chances were good that she could provide life to someone else.

We were told that a representative from Finger Lakes Donor Recovery (FLDRN) was available and would like to talk to us about donation. We had heard of this procedure but had little information on it. We were under the impression that they opened you up, took what they wanted and then closed you back up. We were so wrong. Scott was also very upset that we would even consider doing such a thing, but we agreed to a meeting.

“There are two words that we have learned: Dignity and Respect. In the time we spent at the hospital, we could not help but notice the care that we, as a family, and Heather, as a patient, were receiving. Even though she had passed on, they would comb Heather’s hair and talk to her.”

As we go forward with this story, there are two words that we have learned: Dignity and Respect. In the time we spent at the hospital, we could not help but notice the care that we, as a family, and Heather, as a patient, were receiving.

Even though she had passed on, they would comb Heather’s hair and talk to her. They would roll her from side to side so she did not get bedsores.

Our daughter was on Medicare but if you were a millionaire you would not have received better treatment.

A Conversation About Organ Donation

Our first contact with Finger Lakes Donor Recovery Network was with Judy Hess, the coordinator from their Family Services department. I was not a real open listener and Scott actually said that he was not comfortable talking with Judy about his sister. Jan was the most open-minded of the three of us and wanted to listen.

Judy explained the need for organs and the possibility that Heather could be a donor. She went through the process and explained that we could choose what we wanted to allow to be donated. She was very comforting, patient, and understanding.

She described how all tests for organs were done externally prior to surgery. They would determine from these tests what organs could be utilized. The availability of the organs was entered on a national website to see where they could be used.

An Opportunity to Change Someone Else’s Life

The most important thing that Judy had us thinking about was that our daughter’s contribution was going to save the life of another person. Our thought was that Heather could not change her life but she could change the life of someone else.

By agreeing to donate Heather’s organs we were allowed to be with her during this process which was from Friday evening until Sunday morning. During this time, all of the tests were run and a search for transplant recipients was conducted.

We appreciated the private time given to us as we shared it with our friends, pastor and family. We also had continued support from Judy and her co-worker from FLDRN, Gary Guiste, who is a senior organ procurement coordinator.

The tests revealed that Heather’s liver was the only organ that could be successfully transplanted and there was a male recipient in need of one locally. Heather’s surgery was scheduled for Sunday morning and we said our goodbyes to our loved one.

A Special Flag and a Precious Handprint

Donate Life flag

A FLAG HONORS HEATHER: At the Semans’ home in Florida, a “Donate Life” flag flies in recognition of Heather’s final act: saving a life.

Judy said she would stay in touch with us but she wanted us to look at the flag that was flying below the American flag in front of the hospital. It was a “Donate Life” flag. She said that it had been flying in honor of Heather ever since we made the decision to allow her to donate.

Judy gave us a beautiful cast handprint of Heather along with a similar flag that was flown over Strong Memorial. We now fly that flag above Heather’s memorial garden below our American flag in Florida. She has also received a Medal of Honor in appreciation for the “Gift of Life” from the people of the State of New York.

We celebrated Heather’s life with a memorial service at our church in Palmyra, NY. As part of the service, we wanted to do the eulogy. This was probably the hardest thing we ever did. Jan spoke about Heather’s walk with God; Scott spoke about the Love of his sister, and I spoke about the Legacy of Heather.


HEATHER’S MEMORIAL GARDEN: The garden in memory of Heather is in Florida, where Mike and Jan spend half the year. The inscription, a verse from a poem, ‘I’m Free’ by Shannon Lee Moseley, reads (in part): “Lift up your hearts and share with me, / God wanted me now, God set me free.” The Gift of Life Medal of Honor graces the top of the stone.

Heather’s Great Legacy… and She Was Telling Us She Was OK

It was then that we realized what a great legacy Heather really has, by providing life for another human being. During the service, we listened to the song, “On Eagles Wings.” The day was gray but at that moment, as we sat facing the congregation, the sun came shining through the windows, falling on our faces.

We felt it was Heather smiling down on us telling us she was safe and OK.

Prior to returning to Florida, we met with Judy who provided us with the name of an organization in Florida called Life Link. We also told her that as a family, we wanted to become active with FLDRN in Rochester.

Scott drops the puck

SCOTT HONORS HIS SISTER: During National Donate Life Month on April 10, 2015, Heather’s brother, Scott, was invited by FLDRN to attend a Rochester Amerks hockey game to drop the ceremonial puck. This was to honor Heather and all donors, and to encourage people to register as organ donors. On the ice, the Amerks hosted the Toronto Marlies.

We returned to Florida still grieving for the loss of Heather. We did, however, contact Life Link in March, and Jan and I put on an informational session promoting organ donation. This included our story along with a lung recipient who told of his experience. A representative from Life Link was present to answer questions.

We opened the session, of approximately 100 people, asking them to share personal stories about organs received and donated. One of them was a pilot who told of his experiences in transporting organs.

An Informational Session’s Ripple Effect

After the session, there were approximately 15 people who signed up to register in Florida, and many more who were going to register when they got back to their home state.

A few weeks after this meeting, a lady who attended our program approached me in a grocery store and told how moving the session was.

She said that on her birthday she noticed the blood mobile where we live, and she decided to give a gift that day rather than receive one. She not only donated blood but planned to register as an organ donor when she returned home.

Our lives have changed, but our silver lining is that Heather did make a difference.

We now carry her legacy with pride, and the hope of helping others by becoming pro-active in the support of organ donation.



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