CHESTER - An event was held in numerous communities across the valley on Saturday, and even though the guest of honor wasn't able to attend, her presence was known by all who took part.
Before her untimely death during a liver transplant operation on Feb. 18, the family and friends of 21-year-old Chelsea Lingenfelter had planned an organ donor drive in Wellsville with her in mind. Despite the tragic outcome, the Team Chelsea group that championed her cause decided to go through with the event, more committed than ever to the cause of organ donor awareness.
Six other communities, including Chester, East Liverpool, East Palestine, Newell, Salem and Salineville, followed Wellsville Mayor Susan Haugh in setting aside the day as Organ Donor Awareness Day in Honor of Chelsea Lingenfelter. Calcutta and St. Clair will hold similar events in coming weeks.
REGISTERING — Bonnie Merriman of Chester, left, is signed up by CORE volunteer Christy Conley to become an organ donor during the Organ Donor Awareness Day event at Chester City Hall on Saturday. - Richard Sberna
Chelsea's mother, Joni Lingenfelter, said she was overwhelmed by the participation of so many other communities.
"My heart won't even fit in this building right now," she said.
More than 100 local residents had signed on to be organ donors by late Saturday afternoon.
Joni said that Chelsea's goal was to spread the word of the urgent need for organ donors to as many people as she could. By that measure, she believes her daughter would have been very pleased with the results.
"I was honestly thinking, if each place got one or two people, how proud would Chelsea be," Joni said. "It's a wonderful thing, so wonderful."
Joni Lingenfelter's fiance, Steve Logston, performed at the event with his group, the Acme Brothers Band. He also expressed his gratitude to the people of Wellsville, and in the other participating towns and villages, for their support.
"There's so many good-hearted people," he said.
Joni said that it usually takes a personal experience with the need for a donor organ to get people involved on a personal level. Such was the case with some of the people who signed up to be donors themselves. One of them was Bonnie Merriman of Chester, who became registered with the Center for Organ Recovery and Education at Chester City Hall on Saturday.
Merriman said that her grandmother had received a liver transplant several years ago.
"We're real pro-organ-donation," she said.
In East Liverpool, Jill Nusser volunteered her time signing people up with Lifebanc, which is responsible for organ donor efforts in Ohio. In addition to being a registered donor herself, Nusser was the recipient of a corneal stem cell transplant that helped to restore her sight. She recognizes that she owes her renewed ability to the sacrifice of another person, and feels the obligation to pass the favor on when her time comes.
"It's the best thing you can do," she said. "If you can save one life, in one way or another, it's a great motivator."