Wendy Lipsey (center) cutting the ribbon with LOPA Foundation board members at the grand opening of the Donor Memorial Park. Photos courtesy LOPA Foundation.

Giving Back: LOPA Foundation

‘Would you like to be an organ donor?”

It’s one of several questions a DMV employee asks during the process of renewing a license that most people probably don’t think twice about. But the answer could one day determine the fate of someone waiting to receive a life-saving organ.

Wendy Lipsey, the Louisiana Organ Procurement Agency Foundation’s vice president, understands deeply the value of organ donation as a recipient of two livers and a kidney. “I remember not knowing if I’d get to see my son again,” she says of the daunting time before the procedure. “This is something I try to explain to the community so they can understand just how important it is to become an organ donor.”

Since the foundation started in 2018, Lipsey has played a vital role in spreading awareness about becoming an organ donor in addition to fundraising. “The money raised supports LOPA’s efforts in celebrating the everlasting gift of organ and tissue donation,” Lipsey explains. One example of those funds at work is the LOPA Donor Memorial Park, where families of organ donors can reflect on the life of their loved ones.

“It’s so important to continuously honor the organ donors,” Lipsey says, explaining how a big part of her job as vice president involves speaking at schools to educate students on the impact of becoming a donor. “When I speak to these kids, I always bring a photo of Christian, the young man whose liver I received in 2009.”

Christian had just gotten his driver’s license before he passed, and at the time, his decision to become an organ donor probably seemed insignificant. But Lipsey has ensured his life and legacy will never be forgotten.

Another way the foundation is giving back to the families of organ donors is through annual butterfly releases across the state. During these events, family members, friends and thankful recipients gather to release butterflies in honor of donors who have impacted their lives.

Funds raised by the LOPA Foundation were used to build this Donor Memorial Park at the central office in Covington. Photos courtesy LOPA Foundation

“We’ll always honor those who have passed and allowed their organs to save the life of another,” Lipsey says. “But the most important thing for me is increasing the donor registry to ultimately save more lives.”

There are more than 2,000 people in Louisiana waiting for a life-saving organ, and as Lipsey knows, patience doesn’t come easy during that dreaded wait. When doctors told her that she would not only need another liver transplant, but a new kidney as well, she knew the wait would be agonizing. “I was asking my nieces to ensure my son Luke got to experience all the ‘firsts’ of life, like going to his first homecoming dance and making sure his date got a corsage,” she says.

Thanks to organ donation, Lipsey was able to live out those firsts with her son after receiving the gift of life for a second time.

“Everyone has been touched by organ donation in some way; even those who receive a skin graph after being burned,” Lipsey explains. “Until you talk about it, you can’t grasp just how many people are affected by organ donation.”

From PSAs with Louisiana legends like Skip Bertman to hosting the Fais Do-Donate fundraiser later this month, Lipsey and the LOPA team are working to continue the organ donation conversation to inspire others to action.

When Lipsey asked LSU women’s basketball coach Kim Mulkey to participate in a video to increase organ donor awareness, Mulkey was more than happy to help the cause.

“The entire PMAC, more than 12,000 people, fell silent when the video began to play, and you could tell everyone was truly listening to our message,” she recalls. “After the video, many people approached me to tell the stories of how they’ve been touched by organ donation. Even to this day, I get random messages about how much that video meant to them.”

With over 350 people slated to attend the Fais Do-Donate event on April 27, Lipsey is excited to share her passion for the LOPA Foundation with all in attendance. She hopes that the conversations and education about the impact of organ donation will continue to spread long after the event concludes.

For more information about LOPA and the upcoming Fais Do-Donate, visit lopa.org.