Kim Brightbill was a mom. She was a woman with diabetes. She was a former cheerleader. She was a licensed practical nurse who enjoyed working with elderly patients. She was a daughter and a granddaughter. She was a beach lover.
In the end, the 34-year-old Lebanon County woman was an organ donor, giving her lungs, her liver and her tissue to others after her death at WellSpan Good Samaritan Hospital. WellSpan Good Samaritan, and all of the hospitals in the WellSpan Health system, recently were honored by a state hospital organization for their work to raise awareness of organ donation.
Kim’s family says that final, selfless act is the living legacy of the woman they loved. They were glad to carry out what were Kim’s final wishes with the support of the hospital staff, who opened the door for her organ and tissue donation.
“It was a long haul for Kim, and she gave it her all,” said Kim’s mom, Renee Brightbill, who noted her daughter struggled with the complications of diabetes toward the end of her life. “If what she did can save another parent like Kim, if another child doesn’t have to lose a parent like her sons did, then that is what this was all for. This is what she wanted. She wanted to help other people.”
WellSpan had 164 organ and tissue donors at its hospitals across the region last year. Those donors gave 47 kidneys, 10 hearts, 6 lungs and 20 livers, making up 83 organs that were transplanted to other patients in need. The donors also gave 101 corneas, 80 bone donations, 77 skin donations and 16 heart valves. Patients may donate organs as well as skin, bones, muscles, blood vessels, nerves and connective tissue such as facial tissue, hands and limbs.
WellSpan hospitals’ work with team members and with patients to help promote organ donation is what led to their recognition by the Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania (HAP) during its 2021 Donate Life Pennsylvania Hospital Challenge. HAP partnered with the Pennsylvania Department of Health and the two organ procurement organizations serving Pennsylvania — the Center for Organ Recovery & Education (CORE) and Gift of Life Donor Program — to support the challenge.
WellSpan Good Samaritan Hospital flies a special organ donor flag on the day someone donates and then presents the flag to the donor’s family afterward. Renee and one of Kim’s sons, Cameron, 14, received the flag on what would have been Kim’s 35th birthday, Feb. 10.
“That made him so proud,” Renee said of her grandson. “He said, ‘My mom is really something.’ “
Kim had Type 1 Diabetes, diagnosed when she was just 5. In recent years, she did not work outside of her home, devoting her time to caring for her son Anthony, 17, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair. Due to her struggles with diabetes, Kim also struggled with numerous health issues including problems with her eyesight, kidneys and gall bladder, which led to frequent hospitalizations. On the day she ended up going to WellSpan Good Samaritan Hospital for the final time, she watched the snow fall outside and sat with Anthony, then excused herself to go lie down. Her mother later found her unconscious and called an ambulance. But by the time the emergency medical crew could revive her, her brain had been without oxygen for a significant period.
“We think she was just tired of being sick,” her mother said. “She had a living will that spelled out what she wanted. She was an LPN. She knew how sick people get and did not want to linger in a coma. She wanted to donate her organs.”
The family spoke to a team from the Gift of Life Donor Program and made their decision, after it became clear that Kim’s brain function had ceased. The program made the arrangements for the donation, bringing a transplant team to the hospital and overseeing the transport of her organs to hospitals where patients were waiting.
Good Samaritan team members lined the hallways as Kim was wheeled to the operating room for the final time, to honor her gifts and her life.
“We felt comfort in it,” Renee said. “We were OK with it and we are still OK with it. That’s what she wanted.”
Stephanie Thompson, director of clinical services at Good Sam, said, “Even in a tragic situation, something good can come out of it. We know that this is very difficult for families, at the worst time of their lives when they lose a loved one, but in the end, oh gosh, it’s a wonderful thing that they can think of others.”
Kim’s family is proud, saying she made a choice that they simply carried out.
“She made a really big difference,” her mom said. “That would have made her happy.”
In the Donate Life Challenge, WellSpan earned the following designations, based on their participation levels in the challenge: WellSpan Health System, Platinum; WellSpan Chambersburg Hospital, WellSpan Good Samaritan Hospital, and WellSpan York Hospital, Titanium; WellSpan Gettysburg Hospital and WellSpan Waynesboro Hospital, Platinum; and WellSpan Ephrata Community Hospital, Gold.
Learn more about having a living will by going here.