Manassas Journal Messenger 03-30-01

Weaving a tapestry of life — Families or organ donors to assemble a quilt in memory of loved ones
By Emily Kuhl
Staff Writer

The Washington Regional Transplant Consortium will honor area families of organ and tissue donors Sunday with the 10th annual Donor Family Gathering in Washington, D.C.

Families have been asked to create a patch in remembrance of their loved one who died. Each patch will then be assembled into a memorial quilt. This newest quilt will be added to a collection of others from the previous five years.

Four families in Prince William County, who have been touched by organ donation, will be participating in the event to reflect on the past, look to the future and try to build a bridge between the two.



Scott Peters
The morning of Nov. 25, 1997, Bill Peters did something so out of the ordinary, he still talks about it to this day: He forgot to kiss his son good-bye.

It would have been the last chance he had. Scott died at 5:10 p.m. that evening from a bullet to the back of the head.

All this, two days before Thanksgiving. Not much of a way to welcome the holiday.

It didn’t seem there was much to be thankful for then. Peters lost his only son; his daughter, Jenn Sweigart, lost her baby brother; and the community lost a bright, caring 18-year-old with a future in the United States Marines Corp.

But the opportunity to donate Scott’s organs provided a glimmer of hope in a situation that seemed bleak from all sides.

Using an innovative technique, his kidneys were flushed with salt water to keep them viable. His corneas were donated at the last minute, as his body was about to leave the morgue. Peters’ initial reaction to the donation was unconventional:

“I was angered that they didn’t take more,” said Peters, a Vietnam veteran who is well aware of burn victims’ need for skin donations. “But medically, he didn’t fit the bill.

“I was very happy when they told me they took his eyes,” he added. “I looked in the mirror and just pumped my hand in the air and went ‘Yes!’ That meant two other people could see.”

Peters said he did not originally intend to go to the gathering, but changed his mind when he thought about the hard work his daughter put into getting the patch made.

Scott’s patch, which was assembled by a friend of the family, features a globe encircled by a chain of people. Sweigart said it’s representative of the numerous people Scott touched.

“The one thing I remember the most is when we went to the cemetery, there was this mass of people,” she said of her brother’s funeral. “Scott was very stoic, which is why we were so overwhelmed with the amount of people.”

This weekend is a reminder to the Peters family, there is still much to be thankful for.


Marty Romans
Sadie Swanston says her son Marty Romans was a typical 18-year-old: He liked football, had a girlfriend, was a good student and was close to his family.

But on July 25, 2000, his typical life came to a screeching halt. His car was struck when another crossed over the median, and Marty died as a result of complications from the accident.

When doctors first alerted Swanston to her son’s serious condition, she knew she was being faced with an equally grave decision: whether or not to donate his organs.

“I went out and told my husband we had to make a decision about what we were going to do,” she said. “We decided Marty would have wanted to donate his organs so someone else could live, so they could benefit.”

His liver and both kidneys helped save the lives of two recipients.

Sunday’s tribute, Swanston said, will be a lasting memorial to her son and the people he touched – in life and in death.

“It’s another closure, it’s another step, and I think it’s a wonderful thing,” she said. “They give the family members a chance to meet other families whose sons, wives, daughters have donated their organs so someone else can have another chance at life.”

Marty’s patch is backed with fabric cut from his favorite Detroit Lions T-shirt. Swanston decorated it with butterflies to represent the renewal of life, and a rose to represent the eternal love she and her husband have for their son.

In the center is stamped the words, “Renewal of life and rebirth of the spirit.”

Swanston said creating the patch was difficult at times, but knowing how her son’s donation has helped others gives her strength.

“I just wish I could convey to people how more at peace you feel,” she said. “You know your son’s life wasn’t in vain and he was able to give life.”


Bill Nolton
In 1999, when Mary Ann Nolton first heard about the annual gathering, she decided not to go.

It’s too soon, she told herself.

Her husband and high school sweetheart, Bill, had died of a heart attack the previous October.

But when the next gathering rolled around in the spring of 2000, she was ready.

“There were a lot of people there that I didn’t know were recipients of donations,” she said. “I was shocked because they came up to me afterwards and they’d say ‘Thank you.’ It was very touching.”

The patch she created never made it on display last year because the quilt was unfinished. But this year’s participants will have a chance to see it.

When the time came to start the patch, she found an unlikely source of inspiration in a poem she’d cross-stitched for her husband years before.

“I was looking and looking, trying to decide what to do for him,” she explained. “He really didn’t have any hobbies; he worked a lot. But I kept coming back to this poem. … The words fit him so perfectly.”

The process of stitching the patch was as rewarding as seeing her finished product.

“I felt closer to him just doing the words. I thought about what kind of person he was,” she said.

Her husband’s death also served as an inspiration of sorts for Mary Ann. Because Bill was a diabetic, he was unable to donate his organs. But he was able to donate tissue for burn victims, as well as his corneas.

“It was just something I hadn’t thought about until after he died,” she said. “When I saw how many people it was helping, I went ahead and switched my driver’s license.”

Mary Ann now proudly calls herself an organ donor – something Bill surely would be just as proud of, too.


Jack Doyle
Jack Doyle used to tease his wife Carol, a sixth-grade teacher at Beville Middle School in Woodbridge, about talking too much about her job. To signal he wanted her to change the subject, he’d pipe up, “Isn’t the weather nice?”

It was an inside joke Carol still cherishes, so she had it cross-stitched on her husband’s patch. Along with it will be a picture of a computer and the words “computer genius” – a testament to her husband’s extraordinary skills with technology.

Carol said she felt cross-stitching was appropriate because it was a hobby Jack knew was important to her.

“My husband always called it therapy,” she said, “and it truly was therapy.”

Since Sept. 6, 1999, Carol’s life has been a roller coaster of emotions.

It started when she left to buy groceries that afternoon. While she was out, Jack suffered a fatal heart attack.

He had had his driver’s license renewed a few months earlier and requested to be an organ donor.

“I didn’t think anything more of it until after he died,” she said. “After all the shock I said, ‘Oh, Jack was supposed to be a donor. It’s too late.’ ”

But it wasn’t too late. He was a tissue donor who gave skin for burn victims, arteries and veins for heart ailments, rib bones for facial reconstruction and corneas for vision impairments. As many as 59 people were touched by his donations, Carol said.

Though now upbeat, Carol remembers when coping was more difficult. An overnight stay at a friend’s house in Delaware last year was intended to give her a break.

“I was laying in bed and started crying,” she said. “I wanted to go home. I wanted to be normal again. I wanted Jack back, and I couldn’t have them.”

While she’s very proud of her husband, Carol said she can’t imagine Jack basking in this new-found limelight. He was more introverted, she said, preferring to shun recognition.

“When he retired from the federal government, he told them, ‘I don’t want a party.’ He just wanted to go quietly,” she said. “And he did.”


· Sunday’s gathering will be at 3 p.m. at the National Presbyterian Church, 4101 Nebraska Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson will speak at the event. For more information on the gathering or about making donations, call the Washington Regional Transplant Consortium at (703) 641-0100 or visit its Web site at

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