Rev. Art Lillicropp champions organ and tissue donation at the Kaiser Permanente South Sacramento Medical Center.
Rev. Art Lillicropp knows the transforming power of organ and tissue donation firsthand.
The 67-year-old Episcopal priest and spiritual care manager at Kaiser Permanente South Sacramento has his sight today because of a series of corneal transplants.
In his late 20s, an eye disease claimed Rev. Lillicropp’s ability to see color and texture. He could only see light. By the time he began studying at an Episcopal seminary, he was legally blind.
While he experienced emotional and financial adjustments and a difficult period of waiting for a transplant, Rev. Lillicropp said his seven years of blindness led to personal transformation.
“Spiritually, the waiting time opened up new doors of what it is to seek a place of deep peace and strength. I found life-sustaining light in the Episcopal community in my neighborhood.”
His first corneal transplant on one of his eyes was unsuccessful, but in his early 30s, two corneal transplants from two different donors restored his sight. When the eye disease returned three years ago, Rev. Lillicropp was able to see again because of two additional corneal transplants, which he received a year and a half ago.
“Organ, eye, and tissue donation is the most incredible gift,” he said. “I feel deep gratitude and thanksgiving for the persons who became my donors.”
One of his most recent cornea donors was a 63-year-old man from Seattle. Last fall, Rev. Lillicropp was able to meet with the donor’s wife. He said they bonded immediately.
“We were very different people, and at the same time we were so connected.”
He said the cornea he was given from her husband was the best transplant he has ever received.
“When I got out of surgery, my ophthalmologist said, ‘I can’t believe this. The cornea is crystal clear, as though it has never been transplanted.’”
Honoring Donors and Recipients
In the fall of 2013, Rev. Lillicropp led a South Sacramento Medical Center team that started a tradition of honoring organ and tissue donors in an annual tree-lighting ceremony. The ceremony includes reading the names of the year’s organ and tissue donors, and a procession to the medical center’s meditation garden. Gold lights are lit on a Japanese maple to honor organ and tissue donors, and clear lights are lit to represent the many recipients.
Throughout the year, every time there is an organ or tissue donor or recipient at the medical center, the tree is lit for a week.
Vicky Owens with Sierra Donor Services said the tree stands as a witness to the profound compassion and generosity that donor families have and the deep gratitude recipients, such as Rev. Lillicropp, feel for receiving those precious gifts.
“I think Art fully appreciates what he has been given, and he wanted to have this tree as a legacy for all families who’s loved ones shine light into this world.”
As part of his work in spiritual care, Rev. Lillicropp is often called to support and comfort the families of patients who are not expected to survive traumatic injuries. He described these cases as “life-altering,” but he said when families make the decision to donate, it helps them in their grieving process.
“The donation often brings peace to the donor’s family because they know their loved one will be living on in someone, and their loved one’s life was not in vain.”