Oliphants live on through tissue donations
Beth Oliphant Hoover shares family's appreciation for organ donors, urges others to donate
Lake Oswego resident Beth Oliphant Hoover recently served as the keynote speaker for the Donate Life Northwest Lifesavers Breakfast, the area's largest gathering of organ, eye and tissue donation supporters.
Hoover is a second-generation Donate Life Northwest board member and ambassador, and has helped inform and inspire thousands to register as organ, eye and tissue donors through Donate Life Northwest events and her family's David Oliphant Memorial Bike Race Series and The Oliphant Community Golf Tournament.
The crowd at the Lifesavers Breakfast was made up of 500 people whose lives have already been touched by the gifts of life, sight and health.
"I was definitely preaching to the converted, but it was such an honor to share my family's stories at this celebration of so many generous organ, eye, and tissue donors," said Hoover. "When transplant recipients, living kidney donors and deceased donor families gather together, I'm filled with a sense of sincere gratitude and immense joy for all the many powerful ways these gifts have connected us."
Hoover shared how her younger brother, David Oliphant, was pursuing his passion as a competitive bicycle racer at age 47. In June 2010, David crossed the finish line near the head of the pack, turned back to beam a smile at his younger brother, Duncan, and shouted "Great race!" Seconds later, David experienced cardiac arrest, collapsed onto the track, and died almost instantly.
"As our family grappled with the unimaginable loss, we learned that Dave would continue giving to others through eye and tissue donation," said Hoover. "He was a generous man and knew something about donation and transplant, but I don't think that he realized that his decision to register would be a lifesaving second chance for more than 50 people."
A week later, hundreds gathered to remember him by riding around the track. As the racers banked the last corner, a double-rainbow emerged where Oliphant had collapsed. "I was filled with unspeakable thanksgiving for David's life and his generous gifts to others. Truly, it was a pivotal moment when our hope was renewed and new purpose was birthed," Hoover said. "My dad, Doug Oliphant, led the way, as he determined to breathe new life into profound loss by making a difference in the lives of others."
Doug Oliphant was a savvy business owner and servant leader, but it was his passionate volunteer work and his warm smile that made him well known throughout Lake Oswego. As he engaged with the Donate Life Northwest community, he came to understand the great need for more donors and encouraged everyone to follow David's example and register to be a donor.
"He could have retreated to his love of gardening and love-hate relationship with golf, but Dad knew that if he tried to avoid the pain, the pain would create a terrific void in him. Even with a heavy heart, he always had a warm smile and pride peppered with emotion when he talked about Dave's donation," said Hoover.
Oliphant wanted to give everyone the opportunity to save lives, as his son had, and to give grieving families an opportunity to celebrate the gift of life as he had done. In May 2014, when Oliphant died of cancer, his mission continued. He insisted that his age, illness and even his plan to die at home would not preclude cornea and tissue donation.
"My dad died in the evening, but my mom wanted him to be carried out in the daylight through the beautiful garden he'd faithfully tended for almost 50 years," Hoover said. "We called the eye bank and confirmed we could wait those hours. Even with cancer throughout his body, my 78-year-old Dad, with the beautiful green eyes, became a cornea and tissue donor — giving others life and sight, like his son before."
Hoover soon followed in her father's footsteps and joined the Donate Life Northwest board of directors as a passionate ambassador for donation. "As I worked to continue Dave and Dad's lifesaving legacies, I could never have imagined our family's next chapter in that legacy," Hoover shared with the audience.
Two years ago, just before Christmas, they became a donor family once again.
"My husband Mark and I held fast to our faith in God and the lessons Dad and Dave had taught us when our 34-year-old daughter, Melissa Venutti, unexpectedly passed away," Hoover said. "Missy was a strong and brave young woman who would light up a room, and was building a hopeful future for herself with a career helping others as a police dispatcher. She had become our beloved daughter 20 years before, after the passing of her father and mother, and we were so blessed to have her join our family. I especially liked that she called me MOE — Mother on Earth."
Amid the shock and sorrow, Hoover and her family "experienced beauty from ashes and unexpected peace when we learned Missy was able to become a donor. She proudly followed in her uncle and grandpa's footsteps when she made the decision to put a "D" on her driver's license — and she, too, gave the lasting gifts of life and sight."
Hoover talked about how much it meant to her to carry on the legacies of her brother, father and daughter, volunteering alongside so many other donor family members who have experienced their own joy amid deep loss.
She also reminded the crowd that their work to inform and inspire more donors is urgently needed. With some 3,000 area children and adults facing a grueling and precarious wait for transplant, she urged them to support Donate Life Northwest programs that build understanding and appreciation for the gifts of life, sight and health. Many attendees committed to be more involved as trained volunteers, and financial contributions topped $160,000 — a record for this longtime event.
"I encourage everyone to visit www.donatelifenw.org to register; learn and share about organ, eye and tissue donation and become part of the vibrant Donate Life Northwest community," Hoover said. "Like my brother, David, my dad, Doug, and my daughter, Melissa — we can all be lifesavers!"
Learn more online at donatelifenw.org.