Saving lives through organ donation

About 650 runners and walkers took part Sunday in the 3rd annual Race to Donate Life 5K. Organizers say there are a number of myths surrounding organ donation.

WASHINGTON – It’s a race that’s not about a winner or about raising money but about letting racers know they have the power to save lives.

About 650 runners and walkers took part Sunday in the 3rd annual Race to Donate Life 5K in Occoquan.

“The race is about raising awareness of the desperate need for organ, eye and tissue donations,” says John Ogden, manger of public affairs and community education for the Washington Regional Transplant Community (WRTC). The group sponsors the race each year.

In the D.C. area, about 2,000 people are waiting for an organ and nationally there are more than 114,000 waiting for a life-saving organ transplant. Each day, 18 people die waiting for an organ.

Most of the participants in Sunday’s race were organ transplant recipients, running in honor of their donor. Others are the families of a loved one who donated an organ.

WRTC was founded in 1986 and is the federally designated organ procurement organization for Washington, D.C., Northern Virginia and suburban Maryland. It serves about 5.1 million Washington-area residents.

The group explains the heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, pancreas and the small intestine can be donated at the time of death. They also facilitate cornea and tissue transplants

Mimi Wallis, who was heading up “Team Wally,” says she and her friends were there to celebrate life. The 33-member team ran in honor of her husband, Mike Wallis, who died three years ago. He was an organ donor.

“Seven people received his organs and a 4-year old little girl got his eyes,” she says.

Wallis’ son, Zachary, chokes up when talking about being at the event.

“It feels good cause everyone’s out here for the same reason. It’s all to support my dad,” he says.

Mimi Wallis says in her darkest hours it’s the letters that pull her through.

“You get a letter from someone who’s received one of your loved one’s organs. It is so uplifting to know that they continue on,” she says.

WTOP’s Kathy Stewart contributed to this story. Follow WTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)