Wanda Berry says despite her daughter’s sudden death, Rita Berry lives on because of her passion for organ donation.
Around 15 years ago, Rita Berry visited her mother after work declaring that she had signed up to be an organ donor.
“She came through the door and said ‘Mama, Dennis Loy says we need to sign up to be organ donors,’” Wanda Berry said. “We never knew it would come to this. This is something very good and beneficial.”
Rita died suddenly at the age of 49 on March 18 at the University of Louisville Hospital. She didn’t have a living will, but she had signed the organ donor registry. The ultimate decision was left up to her family.
Rita’s son, Ray Rowe, said after doctors informed them of Rita’s passing, they made sure the process was as comfortable as possible.
To Rita’s children, the decision to have her organs donated meant fulfilling one of their mother’s wishes. Her daughter, Kristy Foster, said her mother was passionate about organ donation and made sure everyone in the family had signed the registry.
“She made sure the whole family was supportive of it,” Foster said.
Sometime after the decision was made, Rita’s mother was approached by a man who asked her “How could you do that to your daughter?”
“I looked at him and asked him ‘How could you not?’” Berry said. “They have a piece of her… If I get to talk to them then I get to talk to my daughter. There is a part of her that is still living. She thought it was great and I am proud of her for that.”
Rita’s passion for organ donation has helped her family deal with her sudden passing.
“She has helped so much,” Foster said. “It means so much more for me now. Her doing this has helped ease the pain a little bit.”
Some unexpected news came out of Rita’s organ donation. Doctors discovered that she had pancreatic cancer, which is known to be very painful, Foster said.
“It gave the family peace knowing she went as peaceful as she did,” Foster said. “I wouldn’t have wanted her to have to go through that.”
Various Kentucky residents benefited from Rita donating her organs. Rita’s right kidney and liver went to a 39-year-old male who suffered from scar tissue on his liver. Her left kidney went to a 71-year-old female who suffers from insulin dependent diabetes.
Her bone tissue was recovered and will benefit various bone grafts, hip surgeries, and repairs of the tendons and ligaments.
Rita’s heart went to a 47-year-old male who suffered from an enlarged heart.
“Somebody got a heart full of love,” Foster said.
Rita’s family is speaking out about organ donation to honor her. Rowe said some people haven’t signed the organ donor registry because they either don’t understand it or haven’t been informed.
“You never know when we are going to be that person laid up there needing an organ,” Rowe said.
Adair County has over 2,000 people on the organ donor’s registry. Foster said some people are hesitant to be organ donors.
“It’s no different than an autopsy,” Foster said. “And it’s not just your organs. They use everything.”
Foster said there are babies who are admitted to Kosair or are born with health problems all the time.
“If you have to leave this world, why not save one of those,” Foster said.
As an organ donor, Rita’s family will receive a medal they plan to place on her tombstone in Haven Hill Cemetery where she is buried.
To be an organ donor, sign up at www.donatelifeky.org or inform the circuit court clerk’s office when getting an ID or driver’s license renewed.
By Allison Cross