In the classic Christmas movie “It’s a Wonderful Life,” actor Jimmy Stewart tells his movie daughter Zuzu, “Every time you hear a bell ring, an angel gets its wings.”
Last week, busloads of angels got their wings, thanks to 14 friends and coworkers of Albany residents Bonnie and Rex Anderson. The group crafted bells on strings of colorful beads that will be hung on park benches, in trees and playground equipment wherever the participants might travel in the coming year.
Attached to each string of beads and bells is a note that reads: “To the finder of this bell: This bell has been placed in memory of the greatest hero we will never know, my daughter Kori’s liver donor. 7-13-17. May the ringing of this bell inspire you to save the lives of eight others through your organ donation.”
Kori Anderson, a 2005 West Albany High School graduate, was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease — primary sclerosing cholangitis — that damaged her liver when she was just 17. She was a member of the Democrat-Herald Young Voices team of high school writers and a sportswriter.
“We knew that someday she would need a liver transplant,” her mother said. “She spent a lot of time in hospitals for 13 years.”
Kori Anderson earned a science degree at Oregon State University in 2010 and a master of medical science degree from Midwestern University and a physician's assistant certificate in 2013. Her choice of careers was greatly influenced by her medical condition and those who treated her over the years.
In 2017, Anderson was living and working in New Jersey when her health began to fail.
“The organ donor rate in New Jersey is low,” her mother said. “We brought her back to Oregon. She was at OHSU (Oregon Health & Science University in Portland) for two weeks and was hanging on when her donation came.”
Anderson said very little is known is about the donor except that she was a young woman.
In memory of the transplants, Kori and Rex have tattoos on their forearms that read: 7-13-17.
Several months ago, Bonnie Anderson’s friend Kelly Gabriel had attended a funeral at which bells were passed out in memory of the deceased.
“Kelly told me about this and I thought it would be nice to do something like this to raise awareness about the need for organ donors,” she said. “That was in February.”
Anderson has made hundreds of bells since.
“My goal is to make one per day, but most often, a bunch get made at the same time,” Anderson said.
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On Wednesday, the Anderson home was filled with chatter and the clatter of bells as participants strung colorful beads on a thin wire connected to each bell. A couple of the participants are headed to Hawaii on vacation and some of the bells will go with them.
“Most everyone here is retired, so these bells are going to go all over as they travel,” Anderson said.
Anderson said organ donations are extremely emotional.
“You know that someone had to die that your loved one lives,” she said. “These bells honor those donors, their sacrifices and their families.”
Kori Anderson and her husband, Glenn Praschil, an attorney, live in (perhaps appropriately) Belleville, New Jersey, where she is a physician’s assistant specializing in psychiatry at North Jersey Health and Wellness.
“My parents are amazing,” Kori Anderson said by phone. “The bells are very inspirational. Leave it to my mom to take something so emotional and turn it into something so positive. It’s important to educate others about donations.”
Anderson said she gets emotional when she thinks about how her life was saved.
“I now try to save the lives of others, who may be considering suicide every day,” she said. “The organ donation that saved my life is also saving other people every single day. It is the hardest decision anyone can make, but organ donations give others a second chance at life and the person who donates lives on through others.”
Last year, Anderson received the statewide Best in Medicine award from the American Health Council.
Rex Anderson has commemorated his daughter’s organ transplant by donating blood every two months.
The Andersons have received a couple emails after people found bells.
“Hi, I found a bell hanging on a bench in the park. It was a very touching moment for my husband and me, as we have 1 friend who received a liver when he was only 2 years old. And we have another friend who recently died, and saved 5 others with his organs. Since we are both already signed up to be organ donors, I moved the lovely bell to a nearby tree so another could could find it. Peace.”
The other read:
“I found the bells in the park today. A very small world. My son had a liver transplant in 1984 when he was 3 months old. He will be 35 next month. Our newborn donor family I hope would be proud.”