Classmates of Kayzlyn Sanae Thomas, 3, who died Dec. 11 after being struck by a car in a parking lot of a west Philadelphia shopping center, release balloons in her honor. Her family donated her organs.
Classmates of Kayzlyn Sanae Thomas, 3, who died Dec. 11 after being struck by a car in a parking lot of a west Philadelphia shopping center, release balloons in her honor. Her family donated her organs.
A Philadelphia businessman and donor organ recipient and the family of a little girl whose organs were donated to others following her accidental death were part of special donor recognition ceremonies last week to promote National Donate Life Month during April.

The two ceremonies were held to bring awareness and to promote organ, tissue and eye donations.

Neshoba County General Hospital and the Choctaw Health Center partnered with the Mississippi Organ Recovery Agency for celebratory "Up and Away - Donor Awareness Day ceremonies and balloon launches.

Steve Wilkerson, who received a liver from a donor, told his story at the first event Wednesday at Neshoba General and encouraged those in attendance to be organ donors.

He said it was an honor to speak at the awareness ceremony.

"There are two things that always happen when you speak about something that is dear to your heart," he said. "You either cry or you talk too long. I'm not much of a crier so there is a better chance that I'm going to speak too long."

Wilkerson said he still remembered the day when he first learned that he was in need of a liver transplant.

"My wife Jenny Lynn and I left UAB and we got to Tuscaloosa and we pulled in to a stop we always make on the way back," he said. "We had not hardly spoken the entire trip. And I said, 'did the doctors say I needed a liver transplant.' It took an hour and a half of driving for that to sink it. Over the ensuring months, it deeply sank in."

Wilkerson said there was one thing he learned about organ donation that he and many others didn't know.

"They don't give organs to people to keep them alive," he said. "They give organs to people to live and there is a great difference in that."

Another thing he learned, Wilkerson said, is what the gift of life truly means.

"Living is sharing, it is being generous, it is being understanding," he said.

He also noted three common misconceptions about organ donation.

"They are not going to take someone's organ and sell it," he said. "It is not going to keep you from having an open casket and you can still go to heaven if you were going there in the first place."

Wilkerson displayed a photo of himself with three of the five people who received organs from his donor.

"We are brothers and sisters in some form or fashion," he said. "I look at this picture everyday."

The grandmother, father and sister of Kayzlyn Sanae Thomas, 3, were also present during the celebratory program at Neshoba General.

Kayzlyn was struck by a vehicle in the parking lot of a west Philadelphia shopping center on Dec. 5 and died six days later.

The child was initially taken to Neshoba General and then airlifted to the University Medical Center in Jackson.

Her grandmother, Karen Thomas, thanked the staff of Neshoba General for their care and concern following Kayzlyn's accident. She was joined by the child's father, Keantray Lerrell Thomas, and sister, Kalleya.

The family donated Kayzlyn's organs.

Her heart went to a five-month-old baby in Texas and her kidneys to a man in Mississippi, Thomas said.

"Neshoba General kept calling and wanting to know her progress," she said. "She lived six days and then she passed. I never thought about organ donation until we were asked. We talked about it and the parents agreed to donate. After we found out who got the organs, it was good to know a part of Kayzlyn lived on. One of these days, hopefully, we will get to meet the recipients."

Kayzlyn's family was also in attendance at a similar program Thursday through a partnership with MORA and the Choctaw Health Center.

The child's classmates from Conehatta Head Start Center sang "Jesus Loves Me" before those in attendance launched balloons signifying donors and their selfless gestures of generosity at the amphitheater.

Kayzlyn mother, Skyler Cheyenne Lewis, was presented a canvas containing her daughter's actual handprints and footprints, among other items.

Fighting back tears, Lewis thanked those in attendance and asked each to become a donor.

"We didn't want to be donors [at first], but through this little girl we helped people," she said. "We knew she would want somebody out there to go on with their life."

Lewis said the staff at UMC did everything they could for her little girl as she fought for her life.

She told those gathered for the program that she missed her daughter, her first born child, and wonders each day what she would be like and what she would be doing if she were here today.