McCloud 5k raises awareness of organ donation

Skye Kinkade
McCloud’s Amy Bourke, who was the recipient of a liver transplant in 2010, stands with heart transplant recipients Damon Gault of Santa Rosa and Butch Jones of Montague, as well as Gayle Shuley, a Redding woman whose granddaughter received a new heart when she was six months old.

McCloud’s Amy Bourke, who was the recipient of a liver transplant in 2010, was joined at Saturday’s Donate Life 5k by two heart transplant recipients and the grandmother of a little girl who received a new heart when she was six months old.

A total of 70 participants took part in the 4th annual Donate Life Run/Walk in McCloud, founded by Bourke in 2011 as a way to shine a light on the importance of organ donation.

That is an attendance drop from last year’s high of more than 100, said Bourke, a 37 year old mother of two daughters. Despite the fewer numbers, she said donations were up – a total of $2,200 was collected for the Donate Life California organization.

McCloud’s walk is held on the same day each year as the national Donate Life 5k in Fullerton.

Gayle Shuey, of Redding, said she saw an advertisement for Bourke’s walk, and since she was unable to attend the Fullerton event, decided to participate in McCloud.

“The Donate Life Run/Walks are always a special day in our lives,” said Shuey. “We get to celebrate life with our loved ones and... say a very big thank you to the donor families for their generous spirit in which they have provided life for another while at the same time suffering a loss in their family.”

Shuey’s granddaughter, Alexis, was born July 18, 2002 and was diagnosed shortly after with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome and placed on the transplant list. On January 22, 2003, her family received the call that a heart had been found.

“At 6 months and 4 days old she received her second chance at life,” Shuey said. “And what a life it is. Lexie will be 12 years old in July... She is so full of life and joy. She plays softball and loves to dance. Never a dull moment with her in our lives.”

Shuey said she was impressed with all Bourke’s family support.

Damon Gault, of Santa Rosa, has been on the transplant list twice. He received his heart on Oct. 10, 2006 and spent 18 months in the hospital, he said.

“I go to functions like Amy’s because of the length of time people have to wait for organs,” said Gault. “Donate Life events are always emotional because in my case, someone had to die for me to live. My favorite quotes are, ‘Welcome to borrowed time’ and ‘The last gift you can give is life.’”

Amy said she met Damon not long after her own transplant, and she is thrilled he joined her during the walk.

For the third year, heart transplant recipient Butch Jones, of Montague, also participated, Bourke said.

Part of Saturday’s event was the release of blue and green balloons, meant to honore those who have donated organs to help others live, and their families, said Bourke.

The walk started and ended at Hoo Hoo Park and looped around the outskirts of town. Most people walked the 5k, but a few did run.

Monica Grady, a Mount Shasta High School senior who is training to run a marathon, finished first and then walked the course backwards with the walkers.

Participants lunched on barbecued hamburgers and hot dogs, fruit salad and chips. The food was sponsored by Hancock Forest Management and Campbell Timberland Management, both of McCloud.

“It amazes me how people are so willing to help,” Amy said. “It reminded me again how appreciative I am to live in this community.”

Bourke’s story

In May 2010, Bourke began to feel ill, though blood tests and a CT scan revealed nothing amiss.

In early June, Bourke woke up “a horrible yellow color” and too weak to get out of bed. She was taken to the emergency room at Mercy Medical Center Mt. Shasta, and later flown to UC San Francisco, where she was admitted to the ICU.

Bourke was diagnosed with acute fulminant liver failure, which has no known cause and no cure except a transplant.

On June 12, 2010, Bourke slipped into a coma and was put at the top of the national list to receive a liver. A day later, a liver became available. Bourke had surgery on June 14, and woke up three days later.

Today, Bourke said she feels “amazing,” though has blood work done monthly.

The liver Bourke received was from a 51 year-old man who died from a closed head trauma. She doesn’t know who he is or where he lived, but Bourke has written to his family and hopes to one day hear back from them.

“I just want them to know how grateful I am, how much I appreciate their gift,” Bourke said. “I want them to understand that I’m not letting it go to waste... If that person hadn’t signed up to be an organ donor, I wouldn’t be here today. Every day is not promised so I live and love every single day and make the best out of the things I can.”

About organ donation

An organ donation from one person has the potential to save the lives of eight people, and tissue donation can enhance the lives of up to 50 others, according to Donate Life California donor registry.

The gift of one liver can save the lives of two children, and there are more than 600 children on the list to receive organs.

Age, most medical conditions or sexual orientation do not exclude people from being a suitable organ and tissue donor.

To learn more about organ donation and how to become part of the registry, visit