New Landstuhl memorial honors fallen servicemembers who donated organs overseas
By JENNIFER H. SVAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 28, 2019
LANDSTUHL, Germany — Servicemembers who have died at the military’s largest overseas hospital were remembered Tuesday for the gifts of life they gave others, as part of an organ donation program believed to be the only one of its kind outside the United States.
They were recognized at the unveiling of the Fallen Soldier Donor Memorial in Landstuhl Regional Medical Center’s memorial garden. An inscribed bronze plaque featuring a sculpture of cupped hands holding dog tags is fixed upon a rock in the garden.
“Today we honor the sacrifices of our fallen brothers and sisters in arms, who even in death continued to make a positive impact on our country and allied nations through organ donation,” said Col. Claude Burnett, LRMC deputy commanding officer.
The plaque is the sister memorial to one dedicated in 2016 at the United Network for Organ Sharing headquarters in Richmond, Va. Both honor organ donors from the U.S. military.
The donations differ from typical U.S. programs in that they generally go to patients from Germany and neighboring countries. Transferring organs across the Atlantic is not possible because of the distance and time involved, hospital officials said.
Gary Foxen, a transplant recipient and Air Force veteran, conceived of the idea after hearing about soldiers who donated their organs after dying at LRMC, his wife Lois Foxen said in 2016, according to the Richmond Times Dispatch. Her husband died in 2014, more than 15 years after receiving a lung.
Since 2003, 83 servicemembers have donated 236 organs to the German Foundation for Organ Transplantation, or DSO, officials said. All the organs, including from servicemembers who died of wounds received downrange, in training accidents in Europe or in the U.S. Africa Command theater, were successfully transplanted.
Most of the organ donations were made between 2006 and 2013, during the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, hospital officials said. Organ donation from LRMC is rarer now, happening about once every six months to a year, officials said.
Servicemembers can elect to be organ and tissue donors and have their choice indicated on their IDs. When their wishes are unclear, next of kin are involved in the decision, said Maj. Brian Cohee, a pulmonary and critical care physician at LRMC.
“What we’re really asking is, ‘What would the soldier — the military member — what would they have wanted?’” Cohee said. “It’s a very personal decision, but those (families) that I’ve talked to that went through it, it helped them deal with the whole situation, knowing that something good was going to come out of it.”
Once a donor is identified, a German team goes to LRMC to remove the organs and transfer them by car or plane to the hospital where the recipient is waiting, said Ana Paula Barreiros, DSO’s central region director. The biggest need in Europe — as it is worldwide — is for kidneys, followed by a liver, then lungs and the heart.
“It’s a great gift that the American population gives to us in Germany,” Barreiros said. “There is no legal obligation. You didn’t have to do this, so it’s a great gift. It’s saving lives.”