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A new ritual called an honor walk is bringing solace to families who’ve lost a loved one and consented to have their organs donated. Hospitals are organizing these walks as a way to honor the gift of life that will be passed on to those who will benefit from transplants. This episode is a follow-up to Reveal’s show “Lost in Transplantation.”

Credits

This week’s podcast was produced by Tina Antolini and edited by Taki Telonidis. Special thanks to Dexter and Danielle Criss and Reveal’s Laura Starcheski.

Our production manager is Mwende Hinojosa. Original score and sound design by Jim Briggs and Fernando Arruda, who had help from Amy Mostafa and Katherine Rae Mondo. 

Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the John S. And James L. Knight Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

Transcript

Reveal transcripts are produced by a third-party transcription service and may contain errors. Please be aware that the official record for Reveal’s radio stories is the audio.

Al Letson:Before we get started with today’s show, we wanted to let you know that a story that started right here on Reveal is now heading over to TV. Reveal reporter Trey Bundy has been exposing a child abuse coverup inside the Jehovah’s Witnesses religion since 2015. The result is the Witnesses, a two night television event that shows what happens when a powerful institution protects its reputation instead of protecting kids. You can see it on the Oxygen network. The Witnesses premiers Saturday and Sunday, February 8th and ninth at seven and six central. For more information about how to watch, go to revealnews.org/witnesses.

 

Al Letson:From the center for investigative reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Letson. In our last episode, we looked at the challenges of getting organs to patients who are waiting for them. After heart or kidney or livers recovered, there’s a rush of activity to get that organ to the person whose life depends on it. Now we want to focus on what happens just before that flurry because that promise of life means someone has died.

 

Dexter Chris:My name is Dexter Chris. I am a full professor at SUNY Plattsburgh and Dalton is my son. He is the third of three children.

 

Dexter Chris:Dalton is mostly known because he was an outstanding wrestler here in upstate New York. He was such a kind person to everyone that he wrestled. He would win and then pick them up off the mat. You know, he’s just that kind of guy. Dalton graduated from high school June 2019. He was going to major in criminal justice there at SUNY Plattsburgh and he was going to also minor in music as well as history. He loved history a lot.

 

Dexter Chris:August 19th, the day of the accident, changed everything for the Chris family. Barbara, my wife, and Dalton were coming from work, so they actually worked together at the resort and they were maybe six miles from the house. It seems that Dalton dozed off and crossed the median, went down into a little drainage ditch, but that drainage ditch was just enough to send the Jeep that they were driving airborne.

 

Al Letson:Dalton’s Jeep ended up hitting a house. He hit his head in the force of the crash. Barbara was badly injured too. They were both unconscious.

 

Dexter Chris:I got the phone call and when I got there, both Barbara and Dalton were next to each other. And to look at them, there was no reason to think that Barbara was going to survive, and was no reason to think that Dalton wouldn’t survive. It just looked like he was fine and Barbara was not.

 

Al Letson:They were both in such serious condition that they were air lifted from Plattsburgh to the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington. They were just rooms away from one another in the ICU. After Dexter and his daughter Danielle arrived at UVM, doctors explained that it was Dalton who was more seriously hurt. His neck had been broken in the crash. His brain had bled so much he was suffering a series of strokes.

 

Dexter Chris:Now I’m being told that Dalton was not going to make it. I remember that like it was yesterday and just like it was yesterday, I couldn’t believe that’s what they were saying, that he was not going to make it. I think it was Jennifer who found a quiet room.

 

Jennifer de Mar…:My name is Jennifer de Maroney and I’m the Oregon donation coordinator at University of Vermont Medical Center.

 

Dexter Chris:So when my daughter Danielle and I sat down, Jennifer presented to me Dalton’s driver’s license. So you can imagine, my son and my wife, they had cut their clothes away and their jewelry had been removed and all that kind of stuff. And in the midst of all that chaos, there is Dalton’s driver’s license. And she points out to me that he’s an organ donor and I started to smile and cry and I said, yes, he is.

 

Al Letson:Jennifer explained she still needed the family’s permission to make sure that Dalton’s wish to be an organ donor was carried out. Dexter gave the okay.

 

Dexter Chris:And she said to celebrate this wonderful choice that my son made in others that find themselves given the organs, an honor walk has been established and UVM is one of those places where the person’s last wishes can be carried out.

 

Al Letson:An honor walk is a new ritual being adopted by hospitals around the US. It takes place after a patient has died and just before their organs are recovered. It’s meant to honor the gift they’re making.

 

Jennifer de Mar…:An honor walk is when staff from all across the hospital come and line the halls between the ICU and the operating room as the patient and the family take their final walk all together before the donation.

 

Al Letson:UVM medical center started doing honor walks in August of 2018. Carol Maxwell is an intensive care nurse there.

 

Carol Maxwell:Before honor walks, sometimes the families would leave before we would bring their loved one’s body to the operating room, and it felt kind of bizarre and lonely and strange.

 

Al Letson:After doctors made the official call that Dalton had died, hospital staff dove into planning the honor walk. Jennifer says they try to add personal touches to the walks whenever possible. They found out that Dexter was a director of a gospel choir, one that Dalton was involved in too.

 

Jennifer de Mar…:And so as we were planning the honor walk, someone said, “We should have a gospel choir here.”

 

Dexter Chris:We were able to bring the gospel choirs that I direct.

 

Jennifer de Mar…:We were in the ICU and the timing of the operating room was about, I’d say 15 minutes away. And all of a sudden you could just hear, if you listen carefully, you could hear this beautiful music. And if it was loud you couldn’t hear it. You needed to listen. And they were warming up and they were warming up with Amazing Grace.

 

Jennifer de Mar…:And it just immediately brought chills when you heard just something so beautiful in the controlled chaos of an ICU. So 15 minutes before we leave the ICU, a final pop up comes out on the computers. So everyone’s computer gets a pop up that says in 15 minutes, the honor walk is going to be happening. At that point, we start lining everyone up. We had moved Dalton into his mom’s room, Barbara, so that they could be together one last time.

 

Dexter Chris:So I felt it important that Barbara, if she had any level of consciousness at that point, would have the opportunity to touch her son’s hand for the last time. And so Barbara, myself, and Danielle and Lakita, maybe my mom, I can’t remember all the hands that were in this. But we all held hands together at that one moment.

 

Carol Maxwell:And as we came out of her room after that really touching moment, I could hear the choir singing and it just sent chills down my spine cause I knew that they all loved Dalton and loved Dexter and loved Barbara and that it was a very close community.

 

Dexter Chris:And they started to sing this song, All We Ask by Donnie McClurkin, and it’s a beautiful song which talks about someone in their last days about to die. And the song is so, it resonates great with Dalton.

 

Jennifer de Mar…:And it was joyful at a really, really sad time. There was joy.

 

Carol Maxwell:The hallways were packed on both sides.

 

Dexter Chris:With not only friends, not only athletes that Dalton had known, but so many UVM staff.

 

Jennifer de Mar…:You see uniforms from all across the hospital.

 

Carol Maxwell:From housekeeping to folks who work in the cafeterias to doctors, to nurses and residents from all over the hospital.

 

Dexter Chris:To walk those steps behind your son and you realize it’s literally two or 300 people in those halls. Now, that was amazing.

 

Dexter Chris:Take me home choir. Take me home.

 

Dexter Chris:(singing)

 

Carol Maxwell:We walked through the hallways and went through the operating room hallway to the door to where you have to be sterile to go in, and that’s where we stopped and they finished singing there and gave the family a few minutes to say goodbye.

 

Dexter Chris:You know, I’m a fairly strong guy emotionally, but when you realize … when you realize you’re not going to see your son breathe again, when he’s not going to be warm again, his heart’s not going to beat again the next time you see him, that became final.

 

Dexter Chris:Next match. Win the next match. One more point. Get two, all right? Get two. Okay.

 

Dexter Chris:I guess the most uncomfortable part was after the honor walk is complete, you walk back down that hall. Now, that was the most shocking thing. People were still there. It’s not like they said, “Okay, we’re out.” The honor walk is forward and reverse.

 

Dexter Chris:I think about if Dalton was not an organ donor, there would have been just, I shouldn’t say just sorrow. There would’ve been great memories, but the very fact there’s a legacy left to so many people after Dalton, there’s a level of celebration that would not normally be there. Up to 50 if not more people that Dalton is able to help. According to a letter I received from the organ donation people there in Albany, New York. There is a young man, a father, 44 year old father who received a Dalton heart. That the 44 year old father, his family, his children, they’re celebrating. The recipient of one the Dalton’s corneas in Albany, the restoration of sight, to him that’s a miracle. The person in Seattle, Washington who received Dalton’s other cornea, same thing. That’s such a celebration that deserves to be celebrated.

 

Dexter Chris:(singing)

 

Al Letson:Our story was produced by Tina Antolini. This performance of All We Ask is by the Plattsburgh state gospel choir, directed by Dexter Chris, Dalton’s father. Our story was edited by Taki Telonidis. Special thanks to Daniel Chris and Reveal’s Laura Starecheski. Victoria Baranetsky is Reveal’s general counsel. Our production manager’s Mwende Hinojosa. Original score and sound designed by the dynamic duo, Jay Breezy, Mr. Jim Briggs, and Fernando, my man yo, Arruda. They had help this week from Amy Mostafa and Najib Aminy. Our CEO is Christa Scharfenberg. Matt Thompson is our editor in chief. Our executive producer is Kevin Sullivan. Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Heising Simons Foundation, the Democracy Fund, and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation. Reveal is a co production of the Center for Investigative Reporting in PRX. I’m Al Letson, and remember, there is always more to the story.

 

Emily Harris is a senior reporter and producer for Reveal. She previously served as an NPR international correspondent, based first in Berlin and later in Jerusalem. Her 2016 series on Israelis and Palestinians changing their minds about some aspect of their conflict won the Overseas Press Club’s Lowell Thomas Award, and her 2014 coverage of Gaza was honored with an Overseas Press Club citation. She also was part of the NPR team that won a 2004 Peabody Award for coverage in Iraq. Harris lived in and reported from Russia during the upheaval of the 1990s. In the U.S., she covered a range of beats for NPR’s Washington desk and reported jointly for NPR and PBS’ “Now” with Bill Moyers. Harris helped start and host “Think Out Loud,” a daily public affairs talk show on Oregon Public Broadcasting. She worked to evaluate and share new financial models for journalism as editorial director of the Journalism Accelerator startup. She’s drafted a screenplay about relationships born in war and collects audio stories of awful and mind-changing moments in people’s lives. Harris is based in Portland, Oregon.

Taki Telonidis is the senior supervising editor for Reveal. Previously, he was the media producer for the Western Folklife Center, where he created more than 100 radio features for NPR’s "All Things Considered," "Weekend Edition" and other news magazines. He has produced and directed three public television specials, including "Healing the Warrior’s Heart," a one-hour documentary that explores how the ancient spiritual traditions of our nation’s first warriors, Native Americans, are helping today’s veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Telonidis also was senior content editor for NPR’s "State of the Re:Union." Before moving to the West, he worked for NPR in Washington, where he was senior producer of "Weekend All Things Considered" between 1994 and 1998. His television and radio work has garnered a George Foster Peabody Award, three Rocky Mountain Emmy Awards and the Overseas Press Club Award for breaking news. Telonidis is based in Salt Lake City.

Kevin Sullivan is the executive producer of Reveal’s public radio show and podcast. He joined Reveal from the daily news magazine show “Here & Now,” where he was senior managing editor. There, he helped lead the expansion of the show as part of a unique partnership between NPR and WBUR. Prior to radio, Sullivan worked as a documentary film producer. That work took him around the world, with stories ranging from reconciliation in Northern Ireland to the refugee crisis during the war in Kosovo.

Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Sullivan launched an investigative unit for CBS in Baltimore, where he spearheaded investigations on bioterrorism and the U.S. government’s ability to respond to future threats. He also dug into local issues. His exposé of local judges found widespread lax sentencing of repeat-offender drunken drivers. Other investigations included sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests, and doctors who sold OxyContin for cash. Sullivan has won multiple journalism awards, including several Edward R. Murrow awards, a Third Coast / Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Competition award and an Emmy. He has an MBA from Boston University.

Sullivan is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Al Letson is a playwright, performer, screenwriter, journalist, and the host of Reveal. Soul-stirring, interdisciplinary work has garnered Letson national recognition and devoted fans.

Amy Mostafa is the production manager for Reveal. She is pursuing a master's degree in journalism with a focus on audio and data at the University of California, Berkeley, where she is a Dean’s Merit Fellow and an Islamic Scholarship Fund scholar. She has reported on science, health and the environment in Anchorage for Alaska Public Media and on city government in Berkeley and San Francisco for KQED. Her work also has appeared on KALW and KALX.  Mostafa holds a bachelor's degree in English literature and public policy. She is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office. 

Fernando Arruda

Fernando Arruda is the sound designer, engineer and composer for Reveal. A composer and multi-instrumentalist, he contributes to the scoring, recording, editing and mixing of the weekly public radio show and podcast. Prior to joining Reveal, Arruda toured as an international DJ and taught music technology at Dubspot and ESRA International Film School. He co-founded a film scoring boutique called Manhattan Composers Collective and worked at Antfood, a creative audio studio geared toward media and ad spots. Arruda worked with clients such as Marvel and Samsung and ad agencies such as Framestore, Trollbäck + Company, Buck and Vice. Arruda releases experimental music under the alias FJAZZ and has performed with many jazz, classical and pop ensembles such as Krychek, Dark Inc., the New York Arabic Orchestra and Art&Sax. His credits in the podcast and radio world include NPR’s “51 percent,” WNYC’s “Bad Feminist Happy Hour” and its live broadcast of Orson Welles’ “The Hitchhiker.” Arruda has scored extensively for theatrical, orchestral and chamber music formats, some of which have premiered worldwide. He holds a master’s degree in film scoring and composition from NYU Steinhardt. Arruda is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Jim Briggs III is the senior sound designer, engineer and composer for Reveal. He supervises post-production and composes original music for the public radio show and podcast. He also leads Reveal's efforts in composition for data sonification and live performances.

Prior to joining Reveal in 2014, Briggs mixed and recorded for clients such as WNYC Studios, NPR, the CBC and American Public Media. Credits include “Marketplace,” “Selected Shorts,” “Death, Sex & Money,” “The Longest Shortest Time,” NPR’s “Ask Me Another,” “Radiolab,” “Freakonomics Radio” and “Soundcheck.” He also was the sound re-recording mixer and sound editor for several PBS television documentaries, including “American Experience: Walt Whitman,” the 2012 Tea Party documentary "Town Hall" and “The Supreme Court” miniseries. His music credits include albums by R.E.M., Paul Simon and Kelly Clarkson.

Briggs' work with Reveal has been recognized with an Emmy Award (2016) and two Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards (2018, 2019). Previously, he was part of the team that won the Dart Award for Excellence in Coverage of Trauma for its work on WNYC’s hourlong documentary special “Living 9/11.” He has taught sound, radio and music production at The New School and Eugene Lang College and has a master's degree in media studies from The New School. Briggs is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Mwende Hinojosa is the production manager for Reveal. Prior to joining Reveal, she was the training strategist and innovation manager for the Bay Area Video Coalition, a nonprofit media arts center in San Francisco. At BAVC, she provided resources and support to students training in video, motion graphics, web and graphic design and managed a community for creative freelancers called Gig Union. She has produced segments for public radio stations KUSP, KQED, KALW and KUOW; videos and short documentaries for nonprofits; interactive panel discussions; and immersive storytelling experiences for tech companies. Hinojosa is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office.