The Texas Organ Sharing Alliance (TOSA) on Wednesday unveiled an installation honoring Central and South Texas residents who have donated organs dating back to 1988.
Know as the Wall of Heroes, the memorial is a centerpiece at TOSA’s headquarters facility in the South Texas Medical Center. Construction of its new four-acre headquarters began in 2018 and was completed in March.
TOSA is one of 58 organ procurement organizations in Texas that works with the families of registered and potential organ donors to facilitate the donation process. Headquartered in San Antonio, the organization serves 56 counties in Texas spanning Waco to the Rio Grande Valley.
“This [memorial] was probably the first thing that we thought of as how we were going to honor [the donors],” Joseph Nespral, president and CEO of TOSA, said. “We at TOSA are extremely proud of how this came out and strategically placed so that anybody who comes on this property must come through here and see it.”
The wall consists of five panels holding more than 6,000 medals drilled in by TOSA staff. 3,279 of the medals are engraved with a first name, the initial of the donor’s last name, and date of donation. San Antonio-based landscape architects TBG Partners worked with contractor SpawGlass to create the wall.
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“This is going to be a memorial that’s going to be here in honor of these heroic donors for years to come, and it’s just TOSA’s way of saying thank you to our donor families,” Clarissa Thompson, TOSA’s senior communications coordinator said. “We’re in the mission of saving lives through the power of organ donation and what better way to display that than to make sure that we honor those heroic donors.”
TOSA held a soft-opening of the wall at its new facility on Wednesday, where donor families were able to look for the name of their loved one on the wall.
“I’m excited for the people that can share and know that these lives really, really meant something and they mean something to all the people that they have saved. But they also mean something to all families that are left,” said Carmen Polhemus, mother of organ donor Daniel Polhemus and TOSA volunteer.
Daniel became a successful donor at 19 years old in February 2005, donating his liver, both kidneys, and pancreas. Carmen has volunteered with TOSA since, sharing her son’s story and educating the community on organ donation.
“I think one of the things particularly about losing a child is a lot of people don’t say their names anymore, and I [miss] him and I [miss] people talking about him. … [To] know that his name is up there with all of these people and will always be there, that’s really important.”
Larry and Mona Kishur attended the opening to visit their son Brian’s medal. Brian died from a brain aneurysm in 2007 and wasn’t a registered donor at the time, but the family worked with TOSA to carry on their son’s giving nature.
“It feels good to be out here with other donor families. … It’s blowing me away just the way everything is laid out, the dignity, the simplicity. It’s not overstated. It’s an honor to be standing here looking at all the names of all these heroes,” Larry said.
“And unimaginable that there are so many of these and then so many more waiting to be put on the wall,” Mona added.
The memorial surrounds a garden of eight flowering ornamental trees that symbolize the eight lives a single donor can save. According to Thompson, the alliance is estimated to reach 200 this year and their names will join the rest of those who have donated years prior.
“We’re still on par with making a difference, families are still saying yes,” Thompson said. “The fact that more and more Texans are saying yes to that gift is just amazing and just a testament that people want to leave that legacy of life.”
This article has been updated to correct that TBG Partners is based in San Antonio.