Family to honor first MI hand donor in parade

LEFT: Shayna Sturtevant RIGHT: Louella Aker

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — For the first time, the Gift of Life Michigan will take part in the Art Van Santa Parade. Family members of people who have given the gift of life will be walking in the parade Saturday, including the mother of the first hand donor in Michigan.

Deb Wyant’s daughter, Shayna Sturtevant of Norton Shores, has a distinction that she never imagined or wanted for her — the first hand donor in the state. It started with an ear infection in 2016 and took a sudden, devastating turn.

“I took her into the emergency room and the ear infection had gone into her brain. They said that she had a stroke and was brain dead at that point,” Wyant said.

Sturtevant donated organs that saved the lives of three people after she died on Sept. 14 of a brain abscess at the age of 21.

When she was getting her driver’s license, Sturtevant had talked to her mother about wanting to be an organ donor. But Wyant says she was surprised when representatives from Gift of Life, the state’s federally designated organ and tissue donation program, asked her if she would be willing to donate her daughter’s hands.

“We were notified that there was a potential recipient out there. We knew that Shayna was going to be the perfect match for that person. We received authorization from Shayna’s family to move forward with that procedure,” said Alison Gillum, a Gift of Life West Michigan representative.

Even though Sturtevant was a registered organ donor, the donation of limbs require special permission, which her parents granted.

“It brings me so much peace to know that my daughter saved three families from this horrible grief that I’m going through. They have their loved one, their life and I hope that they’re all living it to the fullest,” Wyant said. “I know Shayna would want them to not have any guilt, because Shayna was a giving person. If I could have asked her, she would have said yes in a heartbeat.”

Sturtevant donated her kidneys, lungs, pancreas and liver, saving the lives of three people. She also gave the gift of mobility to an Indiana woman through the donation of her hands.

In 2012, Louella Aker was cleaning up after a tornado swept through her Indiana town when she got a blood infection. When the infection spread, she had to have parts of her arms and legs amputated.

She spent years using prosthetics, but after a successful transplant surgery, called vascularized composite allografts, she can now hold her grandchildren again.

Aker recently celebrated the one-year anniversary of her transplant, and was able to cut the first piece of cake herself.

Wyant and Gift of Life say situations like this highlight the need to have conversations with your loved ones about their wishes in case the unthinkable happens.

There are more than 3,500 people waiting for organ transplants in Michigan, according to the Secretary of State.

You can add your name to the Michigan Organ Registry online.