Donate Life 5K Run-Walk underscores close partnership between OneLegacy and OCSD

By Lou Ponsi

The testimonials rang out loudly from the stage on the intramural field at Cal State Fullerton on Saturday, moments before the start of the Donate Life 5K Run-Walk.

Held for the 15th year, the event is designed to raise awareness and encourage the masses to register as organ and tissue donors.

The message on April 29:

In death, we can save a life.

The event was hosted by OneLegacy, a nonprofit with a strong record of procuring organs and tissues, which then are transplanted into those who need them.

Former Major League baseball player Rod Carew, a recent recipient of a heart and kidney transplant, spoke to the crowd at the Donate Life 5K Run/Walk about his newfound relationship with the donor family. Photo by Lou Ponsi/Behind the Badge OC

There were 12,000 participants at Saturday’s event.

Of those, there were 60 kidney recipients, 43 heart recipients, 46 liver recipients, 23 lung recipients, 28 living donors and two cornea recipients, said Tania Llavaneras, media relations specialist for OneLegacy.

“We are grateful to have them here,” Llavaneras said. “They are here to honor their loved ones and celebrate life.”

OneLegacy has a close relationship with the Coroner’s Division of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department — so close that OneLegacy maintains an office there and procures organs and tissues regularly from the coroner.

“We feel really proud of the relationship we have with them,” said Bruce Lyle, O.C. assistant chief deputy coroner. “It’s about new life.”

Runners and walkers at the Donate Life 5K Run/Walk pass by hundreds of photos bearing the names of people who were organ and tissue donors at their death. Photo by Lou Ponsi/Behind the Badge OC

Among the speakers was Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens, who encouraged the crowd to convince friends and family to become donors.

“The Coroner’s Office has been a partner with OneLegacy for many, many years,” Hutchens said. “We do everything we can to increase that partnership and help to save lives and get people to agree to be donors.”

At an event honoring donor families at OCSD headquarters in November, Hutchens said there were 296 tissue donors and 173 organs transplanted through the OCSD-OneLegacy partnership.

In 2016, OneLegacy transplanted a national record 1,475 organs, said OneLegacy CEO Tom Mone.

There were 2,700 tissue donors, which enabled more than 200,000 tissue transplants, with close to 30 percent taking place in Orange County, Mone said.

“The Coroner’s (Division is) integral to every case we are on,” Mone said. “The Sheriff’s (Department) and OneLegacy work hand in hand and together, we can save lives.”

The Donate Life Run/Walk was started in 2003 by Kathleen and Craig Hostert. Craig was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder in his kidneys and received a kidney from Kathleen.

In 2012, Hostert’s kidney failed again, and this time, son Justin donated a kidney.

Many participants in the Donate Life 5K Run/Walk at Cal State Fullerton on April 29 were running and walking to honor a loved one who donated an organ after he or she died. Photo by Lou Ponsi/Behind the Badge OC

Notables such as baseball Hall of Famer Rod Carew and former Angel David Eckstein told the thousands in attendance stories of how organ donations impacted their lives. Four of Eckstein’s family members have received kidney transplants and three other relatives have donated their kidneys.

Carew, who had a massive heart attack in September, stood on stage, expressing gratitude for Konrad Reuland and his family.

Two days after Thanksgiving 2016, Reuland, 29, a Mission Viejo High graduate and former tight end in the NFL, was lifting weights.

He felt a clicking sensation in his head, then got a headache.

Thousands of runners and walkers participated in the Donate Life 5K Run/Walk, held April 29 at Cal State Fullerton. The event is organized by OneLegacy Foundation, which matches organ and tissue donors with recipients. Photo by Lou Ponsi/Behind the Badge OC

Diagnosed with a brain aneurism, he died Dec. 12.

Days later, Carew was transplanted with Reuland’s heart and kidney.

“The Reuland family and my family are now joined together for the rest of our lives,” said the Hall of Famer, joined on stage by his wife and Reuland’s mother, father and brother.

“We are going to do a lot of things together,” Carew said. “We are going to save lives. Don’t be afraid to help someone else. The greatest gift we can receive here as recipients is the gift of life.”

Baseball great Rod Carew is joined on stage at the Donate 5K Run/Walk by his wife, Rhonda, left, and the family of the late Konrad Reuland, whose heart and kidney were transplanted into Carew. Reuland, a former NFL player, died at age 29 from a brain aneurism. Photo by Lou Ponsi/Behind the Badge OC

Hundreds of photos bearing the names of people who were organ and tissue donors at their death were placed along the course of at the Donate Life 5K Run/Walk at Cal State Fullerton. Photo by Lou Ponsi/Behind the Badge OC

Thousands of runners and walkers participated in the Donate Life 5K Run/Walk, held April 29 at Cal State Fullerton. The event is organized by OneLegacy, which matches organ and tissue donors with recipients. Photo by Lou Ponsi/Behind the Badge OC

Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens addresses the crowd. Photo by Lou Ponsi/Behind the Badge OC

David Eckstein, former Anaheim Angel and two-time World Series champion, address the large crowd at the Donate Life 5K Run/Walk at Cal State Fullerton. Eckstein has four family members who have received kidney transplants and three other family members who have donated their kidneys. Photo by Lou Ponsi/Behind the Badge OC