Poway mom turns loss into 'Donate Life' campaign

Poway resident Kathleen Stark, with a photo of her daughter, at a Donate Life information table. Photo by Beverley Brooks
Poway resident Kathleen Stark, with a photo of her daughter, at a Donate Life information table. Photo by Beverley Brooks

By Emily Sorensen

A Poway woman has turned her loss into a mission to promote organ and tissue donation.

“Donate Life California” is encouraging those who are getting driver’s licenses and IDs at the DMV to register as an organ and tissue donor. For Kathleen Stark, a Poway mother and parent liaison at Rady Children’s Hospital, the movement is something close to her heart.

Stark lost her 14-year-old daughter, Brittany, in 1998 while she waited for a heart transplant. When she was 12, Brittany collapsed at Twin Peaks Middle School while running. She was diagnosed with a rare form of cardiomyopathy called, arrythomogenic right ventricular dysplasia, which required a heart transplant. After Brittany’s death, her parents donated her corneas, which were transplanted into two adult men in San Diego.

“I promised her I’d share this issue the rest of my days,” said Stark. She calls herself a “mom on a mission,” working to increase donor registrations. “I want to honor [Brittany] by helping others,” said Stark. “The need for organs is a global issue, not just an issue in the United States, particularly for children, who through no fault of their own, have a failing organ.”

One of the ways Stark helps to encourage organ donors to sign up is by creating displays in DMVs about Brittany, and other recipients of organ transplants.

This year, Stark is taking her story on the road, literally. On April 29, Stark embarked on a two-week bike ride from San Francisco to San Diego, where she will spread the Donate Life California message and encourage people to become organ donors. “It’s a personal journey to honor Brittany, but also to help others,” said Stark. “I’m so looking forward for the opportunity, especially riding along the coast. I can’t wait to start.” Stark is planning to arrive back in San Diego on Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 12.

Stark will be promoting Donate Life through a logo on her bike, and a pink dot somewhere on her person, possibly her helmet. The van her brother will be following her in, for safety, will also bear the Donate Life California logo on a banner.

Stark won’t be taking her ride empty-handed. She plans to stop in at transplant centers in San Francisco and Los Angeles to donate Kelly Perkins dolls to the children there. Perkins, an avid mountain climber and athlete, was the Starks’s mentor while they waited for a heart for Brittany, and is a fellow transplant receiver. Mattel made a doll in Perkins’ likeness. “Kids need to know they can do anything, even with this happening,” said Stark.

Stark will also be carrying Donate Life California bookmarks, which she plans to leave at the hostels where she will be staying, in a hope to reach more people with her message of the importance of organ and tissue donation.

   
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