Piedmont Athens Regional Hospital is located at 1199 Prince Avenue in Athens, Georgia. (Photo/Jason Born)

Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center will hold a flag-raising ceremony from 2 - 3 p.m. on April 12 on the fourth floor of Prince Tower One. This ceremony will honor both the donors and recipients of life-saving organ donations.

Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center is one of many hospitals across the U.S. that participates in Donate Life Month every April. Candi Wiercioch, the director of cardiac and adult critical care services at the Athens Regional Health System, helps organize this ceremony.

The Donate Life America flag-raising ceremony began in 2009 as a celebration of organ donors. Donate Life Month encourages communities to bring attention to the importance of “organ, eye and tissue donors,” Wiercioch said.

There are many reasons to bring importance to organ donation. More than 113,000 people nationwide are on the transplant waiting list with more than 5,200 from Georgia alone, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Every 10 minutes, another person gets added to the waiting list and around 20 people die each day on the waiting list, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“We started about five years ago doing a remembrance ceremony in April,” Wiercioch said. “We have a Tree of Life, an actual wood carving, that was made by a UGA student for us.”

The Tree of Life was created by Juan Espinosa, a former student at the University of Georgia. Espinosa’s brother was an organ donor, Wiercioch said. Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center partnered with him through UGA’s art department and the tree was put up in 2017. The Tree of Life was a passion project for many members of the hospital, including the ICU staff which held a bake sale to raise money to get the statue made.

“We have gold leaves that we engrave with each donor name each year, so that’s where start our ceremony,” Wiercioch said.

Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center has three parts to its Donate Life Ceremony.

The remembrance ceremony at the beginning at the Tree of Life will continue at the flagpole, where the hospital will raise the Donate Life flag. Finally, the ceremony will move to the Healing Lodge where an azalea tree will be planted in honor of organ donors.

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