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Central Illinois mom shares impact of son's organ donation at Carle Health Donate Life events

Central Illinois mom shares impact of son's organ donation at Carle Health Donate Life events
Elijah Luczaj enjoyed life.

“He loved plants. He loved dogs. He loved family,” his mother, Melissa Bornder, said.

When Elijah’s life was ending at age 17 on Nov. 3, 2022, Bornder knew what her son would have wanted.

“Elijah had a love of all things living,” she said. “I can’t imagine he wouldn’t have wanted to give the gift of life to someone.”

On Nov. 6, 2022, he gave the gift of life to two people by donating his kidneys to a man in his 20s and one in his 40s.

Elijah’s life goes on in another way. His mother is an ambassador for Gift of Hope® Organ & Tissue Donor Network, meaning she tells Elijah’s story to spur conversation among families and community members about registering to be organ donors.

“I appreciate the opportunity that Gift of Hope gives me to discuss my son and his incredible gift,” she said.

Bornder will speak at three National Donate Life Month flag-raising ceremonies to recognize National Donate Life Month:
  • Carle Foundation Hospital (CFH), Urbana, April 3 at noon. The event will be at the Heart and Vascular Institute entrance. In case of rain, the ceremony will be in The Forum at Carle.
  • Carle BroMenn Medical Center, Normal, April 17 at noon. The event will be at the second floor atrium.
  • Carle Health Methodist Hospital, Peoria, April 25 at noon. The flag raising will be at the main entrance.
All three events are open to the public.

Elijah’s cause of death was accidental drowning. He is connected to all three communities. He lived in Creve Coeur, which is near Peoria, and was a student at East Peoria High School. His accidental drowning happened west of Bloomington and he received initial care at BroMenn. Later, he received trauma care at CFH. It was there his family made the decision to share the gift of life through organ donation.

The CFH event also will include a story of hope by Steve Benoit, of Urbana, a kidney recipient and husband of Ronna Benoit, a CFH nurse.

All three events will include a welcome by a member of the Carle Health leadership team; remarks by representatives of Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network; prayers offered by Carle Health chaplains; and a raising of the Gift of Hope flag. The CFH event also will include a memorial walk.

All eight Carle Health hospitals work with Gift of Hope to facilitate organ and tissue donation with patients who have registered their intent to be organ donors and whose loved ones wish for them to save the lives of others following their death.

In 2023, CFH had 19 organ donors who saved 37 lives because a donor may benefit multiple recipients. The hospital also had 75 tissue donors who enhanced numerous lives.

“Carle Foundation Hospital plays a key role in supporting organ donation by serving as a donating hospital,” Elizabeth Angelo, DNP, RN-BC, Carle Health executive nursing officer and Carle Foundation Hospital president, said. “This work is close to home for many of us, as we know individuals who have been donors and recipients. Our team does a remarkable job of supporting the donation process and providing quality care in a holistic way to donors and their families. We know their generous gift saves and improves lives and we are proud to support them in that process.”

At Carle BroMenn in 2023, four organ donors saved eight lives. The hospital also had 16 tissue donors who saved numerous lives.

“I believe one of the most compassionate ways to support other human beings is by registering to be an organ donor,” Colleen Kannaday, FACHE, Carle BroMenn Medical Center president, said. “Although difficult to think about, it was important for me to do this given the significant impact organ donation can have on saving another life. Working in healthcare, we see how healing can take place during difficult times when families know that other lives will be saved because of the gift of organ donation.”

At Carle Health Methodist in 2023, one organ donor saved three lives. In addition, at the Greater Peoria hospitals in 2023, there were 25 tissue donors (19 at Methodist and six at Carle Pekin Hospital) who saved numerous lives.

“At Carle Health Methodist, Proctor and Pekin Hospital, our team works hard every day to save lives and improve lives,” Keith Knepp, MD, Carle Health Greater Peoria president, said. “But some of our most important and meaningful work with families and their loved ones is with those who decide to give the gift of life. We are proud of our team, are humbled by the gifts of our donors and commit to continuing to support this process. We encourage our team members and the public to attend our Donate Life awareness event on April 25.”

Elijah Luczaj’s story

Elijah Luczaj (pronounced “LOU-chi”) lived in Creve Coeur with his mother, an engineering technician with the Illinois Department of Transportation, and his step-father, Bill Bornder, a disabled veteran and self-employed artist. Elijah loved the outdoors and gardening. He enjoyed hiking at Fort Creve Coeur Park and was a member of the East Peoria High School Marching Raiders.

“He was genuinely kind to people,” his mother recalled.

On Oct. 31, 2022, he was exploring a wooded area west of Bloomington. When his parents called out to him, and he didn’t respond, his mother used an app to track his phone. His parents found him in a shallow creek. It had rained earlier. His mother thinks he slipped on the muddy creek bottom as he attempted to cross it.

His parents began CPR until paramedics arrived. He was first taken to Carle BroMenn Medical Center in Normal, then transferred to CFH in Urbana, where he could receive trauma care.

Two days later, on Nov. 2, doctors told the Bornders that Elijah had no brain activity. The Bornders allowed medical staff to determine whether he could be an organ donor and for Gift of Hope to search for suitable organ recipients.

“If there was a chance that someone could benefit from his situation, then I would want that for him,” Bornder said.

She met with a Gift of Hope donation liaison. Elijah died on Nov. 3. The assessment determined that his kidneys were viable for transplant and that happened on Nov. 6.

“I understand there is a lot of misconception about organ donation,” she said. “I want people to understand the process and that the hospital and Gift of Hope staff first take care of the individual. I want families to have those conversations and to understand they can save lives and impact a lot of people.”

“I have dark days,” Bornder admitted. “This (being a Gift of Hope ambassador) gives me a sense of direction. I know that it (organ donation) was the right thing and we have a new path to go down. I am grateful for that.”

“I want to bring awareness to the importance of organ donation. It’s important for patients, staff and families to see that Gift of Hope flag and to understand that it means life goes on.”

How to help

The three flag-raising ceremonies are open to the public. Anyone interested in registering to be an organ donor may do so here.

Categories: Community

Tags: donate, donation, gift, hope, hospitals, life, organ, transplant