Founded by the Kentucky Association of Circuit Clerks in 1992, Donate Life Kentucky was funded by Kentuckians who donated $1 while getting their driver’s licenses. Today, they have more than 2.3 million people registered as donors with partners like Kosair Charities, Kentucky Organ Donor Affiliates, and the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, along with generous philanthropic contributors who sustain donation education programs. The Donate Life Kentucky organization is dedicated to educating Kentuckians about the lifesaving mission of organ donation and encouraging everyone to register as donors, and ultimately, creating a world where no one waits for a lifesaving organ transplant.
Just one person impacted by Donate Life Kentucky is Shelley Snyder, whose mother was able to receive the gift of donation in 2021. Shelley became Executive Director of Louisville’s Donate Life Kentucky in 2010, her dream job, and says that being Executive Director of this mission has been the honor of her life. The organization’s founders knew that no one should lose a dad, child, or best friend waiting for a transplant, so they worked with the Kentucky Legislators, who passed a bill stating that they could ask for a $1 contribution from people getting a license. Over the years, more than $12 million has been raised through driver’s licenses and invested right back into Kentucky for education about donations.
“I have had a longstanding passion for this mission,” says Shelley. “I remember getting my license as a 16-year-old, and of course, I knew this was the right thing to do. Then, just a year later, my dad passed away suddenly and was able to donate tissue and cornea. He gave sight to a 22-year-old and a 29-year-old and helped many people through tissue donation. Although he was not able to walk my sisters or me down the aisle at our weddings, I believe he was able to help another dad walk – or a child play – or a grandmother pick up their grandkids with these gifts.”
When asked about the greatest inspiration in her life, Shelley had an answer right away. “My dad, Denis Heavrin, comes to mind first and foremost. He was the best guy and was always so giving and loving to his wife and three daughters. He was our basketball coach and always cheered us on. His friends called him “the straw that stirred the drink.” He was funny and confident and always wanted to help others and do the right thing. I’ve lived most of my life now without him here on earth; however, I think of him and tell his story almost daily.”
Shelley goes on to explain that her dad spent a large part of his career as the National Executive Director for The Dream Factory, the largest all-volunteer children’s wish-granting organization that doesn’t limit its mission to children who have a life-threatening illness. “I know he continues to guide me in the work I do. He would get such a kick out of this opportunity to share his story – I can almost hear him chuckling in heaven. I know he’s proud. I like to give him some credit in heaven when I have a good idea, when an event goes flawlessly, or even if I just get a great parking spot in the rain. He’s always looking out for me,” Shelley smiles.
Of course, Shelley had to give some credit to her mother as well! “Now, being a mom myself and being almost the same age she was when we lost my dad, I can’t imagine how she did it. While raising three girls after losing the love of her life, she still put on a brave face and was able to keep our world spinning. She kept our lives steady and moving forward, helping to mold us into the people we are today. Like other donor families, her selflessness during a time of tragedy is nothing short of heroic. To think of others and put them first in the worst moments of your life is one of the reasons we put our donor families at the center of everything we do.”
Donate Life Kentucky is focused on getting EVERYONE to register as an organ donor. There are no limits to registering – everyone can register! Some people think their health history or age matter, but they don’t. Absolutely anyone can register – there are no limits! Shelley explains, “We need 100% of people to register to ensure those in need of organs receive their gift of life because only about 1% of people die in a way that allows their organs to be recovered for transplant. For clinical reasons, organ donation is very rare. So when the opportunity to give the gift of life arises, we need everyone to say ‘yes.’”
She adds, “We love connecting with people who have been touched by this mission. We have stories of Kentuckians currently waiting on a transplant or those who have received their transplant and gone on to finish school and have babies. We want to connect with those families who lost a loved one on the waiting list because they are the reason for our work! We never want that to happen to another family. We also have so many wonderful donor families involved too. These people inspire our staff and our work, and we want everyone who has been touched by this mission to reach out and connect with us. Whether it was your college friend who received a kidney or your grandfather who became a tissue donor, we want to connect with you and have your help to inspire others to register.”
To learn more about all of the ways to #donatelifeky, you can visit www.donatelifeky.org.