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An Ambassador’s Legacy: Valerie Stuart

The Living Legacy Foundation of Maryland’s (The LLF) Donate Life Ambassador program allows organ, eye, and tissue donation supporters to become volunteers for our organization. Every single one of our ambassadors has a unique and compelling reason why they volunteer with us. The LLF could not do our important work every day without their generous time and efforts.

We recently asked some of our volunteers why they continue to dedicate their time to us and the feedback we received was insightful and inspiring! Here, we’d like to share one of those responses with you: a reminder of why we do the work that we do and how important our volunteers are to the cause.

Keep reading for our interview with Valerie Stuart, a volunteer since 2012 and an awesome advocate for donation. Valerie lost her daughter some years ago, but found comfort knowing her daughter was a donor, which led her to our volunteer program.

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What drew you to volunteering in the first place and why have you remained a volunteer as long as you have?

What drew me to volunteering with The LLF was the passing of my daughter, Vanessa Walker-Stuart on July 22, 2011. I was not aware that my daughter was a registered organ donor. As her mom, it really bothered me that I had never seen the heart on her driver’s license and I didn’t have the basic understanding of what she signed up for. After her donation, I made it my mission to become educated to be able to explain to my family and friends what transpired, and to answer the many questions from them that followed.

I remain a volunteer because this what I would have done if had she shared that she was a donor. We would have volunteered together. I was upset that that my daughter was not compelled and/or encouraged to come home and share this newsworthy decision with me since I worked in a hospital. It’s important and humbling to be part of choice she made to help others. She left a legacy that she didn’t get an opportunity to celebrate and I wish she thoroughly understood the significance and the bravery of that decision.

I will remain a volunteer because this is my way of honoring her. I believe all organ donors should know that they are a hero. They should share their decision with their families and encourage others to do the same. When volunteering, it is disheartening to learn that so many don’t become donors because of a false myth they have heard. If I can get one person to dispel a myth associated to becoming organ donor, then I have done a great thing.

In what ways has volunteering been helpful to your grieving process and/or honoring your loved one’s legacy?

Volunteering has been quite helpful in my grieving process and in honoring my daughter’s legacy. My daughter passed ten days after giving birth to her son, Kai, so being able to partake in events that I can bring him to is so very rewarding and important to me. Being part of the Jubilee Arts Fountain Project was quite therapeutic for me. Making a tile for him to honor his mom and taking him to go see the fountain was gratifying. It’s a place where we can go to reflect. Having the opportunity to have my grandson be the Tee Kid at a Ravens game was beyond words. That moment of seeing him run across the field was priceless. The volunteer appreciation picnic is also very nice. It’s events like these that allow teachable moments and easy conversations to happen about a loved one’s heroic act.

After I became a volunteer, I invited anyone who would listen to partake in the events I was involved in with The LLF. My best friend came with me to my volunteer training and she shows up each year to support me at the Donate Life Family Fun Run each year. I was in her ear the whole time boasting about my volunteer experience. Who would have known that seven years later she would lose her 33-year-old daughter to breast cancer? I spent the night at her house that night and was there when she received a call from The LLF asking if she would like her daughter to be a tissue donor. She said yes. Without a doubt, I know she got through that call and the process that followed because of my journey.

In what ways has volunteering allowed you to build connections and relationships to others with similar experiences?

Being around like-minded people has really helped ease the sting of my loss. Outside of feeling like I was actually adopted by The LLF staff, which is awesome, being able to converse with donor families and those on the fence about organ donation at community events has been quite rewarding.

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