DENVER (CBS4) – Nearly 6,000 people filled Washington Park in Denver Sunday morning for the 17th annual Donor Alliance Donor Dash.
The 5K event is designed to celebrate the gift of life. It honors those who are alive and others who saved lives through organ and tissue donation.
“It’s really an indicator of the impact organ, eye and tissue donation here in Colorado,” Andrea Smith, Director of Public Relations for Donor Alliance, said.
Colorado has the second highest percentage of registered donors in the nation, Smith said, falling second to Alaska. Tammy Weatherly’s nephew, Sal Gonzales, was one of them.
“We lost our nephew about four years ago,” Weatherly told CBS4’s Kelly Werthmann.
Gonzales was just 17 years old when he passed away, but chose to be an organ donor before his death. Now his family and friends take part in the Donor Dash to commemorate his lifesaving decision.
“We’re proud of him that he chose to be an organ donor,” Weatherly said. “But, at the same time, we miss him terribly. It’s bittersweet.”
The Donor Alliance event also celebrates donor recipients like Shaun Baker, who received a kidney from his friend Melanie.
“It happened five years, seven months and 16 days ago,” Baker said. “But who’s counting?
Baker was on a kidney transplant list for about a year after he was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease. When his friends learned he needed help, Melanie Giamarco stepped in and doctors determined she was a good match.
“I don’t think people understand that you can actually be a live donor. You can donate your kidney and make it through the surgery,” Giamarco said with a smile.
More than 120,000 people in the U.S. are waiting for an organ transplant – 2,500 are in Colorado and Wyoming. Sunday’s event serves as a reminder that deciding to become an organ donor could be the decision that saves a life.
“The more people learn about it, the more likely they are to support donation,” Smith said.
To learn more about the Donor Alliance or how to become an organ donor, visit: www.donoralliance.org.
Kelly Werthmann joined the CBS4 team in 2012 as the morning reporter, covering national stories like the Aurora Theater Shooting and devastating Colorado wildfires. She now anchors CBS4 This Morning over the weekend and reports during the week. Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter @KellyCBS4.