Annual picnic celebrates OHSU transplant family

It started out as a potluck planned by liver patients in the 1990s. Since then, the OHSU Transplant Picnic has become an annual event for hundreds whose lives have been touched by transplants. The event is an opportunity for transplant recipients and their families to get together outside the clinic setting to share stories, give hope and spend time with their transplant teams.

Clinical Transplant Services Outreach Coordinator Sondra Tootell shares more about the picnic’s history and what it means for recipients, donors and their loved ones.

Can you tell us a little bit more about the day of the picnic? 

The picnic agenda includes transplant group photos, speakers from Donate Life Northwest, Pacific Northwest Transplant Bank and Northwest Kidney Kids, and an activities booth with crafts and face painting for kids and adults alike. After lunch comes what I feel is the best part of the event: the guest speakers. At our last picnic, we heard from the family of a young man who passed away and the recipient of his kidney and pancreas. We also heard from the family of a deceased young woman and the recipient of her liver. Both the families and the recipients had expressed an interest in meeting each other and previously worked with our social workers to make this happen.

Who attends the picnic?

We invite all of the OHSU and VA solid-organ transplant recipients, living donors, families of deceased donors, patients on the waitlists, caretakers, families and friends. The entire OHSU and VA transplant team is invited, including surgeons, physicians, coordinators, social workers, nurses, pharmacists, dieticians and all other supporting staff. We had nearly 500 guests at the 2014 picnic, by far our largest turnout!

Why do they attend?

Our guests tell us they love this event. It gives them a chance to speak with others who’ve had similar experiences. They get to visit with their surgeon and coordinator, whom many haven’t seen in some time. Our waitlisted people have the opportunity to hear stories from those who waited and finally received their transplant – it gives them hope and the strength to hang in there.

I personally love this event because I am surrounded by people who are so happy to be alive! They’ve had their hardships and now many of them are experiencing a whole new life. Families of deceased donors get to see the faces of those who are alive because someone gave them the gift of life, just like their loved one. Our staff love this event and volunteer their Saturday to set up the event, work the registration desk, help at the activities booth, and just spend time with our entire transplant family.

The OHSU Transplant Picnic is held annually on the third Saturday of July. Mark your calendars for next year’s picnic, which will be held July 18, 2015. For more information or to see photos from past picnics, click here.


Sondra Tootell has been the Outreach Coordinator for Clinical Transplant Services at OHSU since August 2011. She moved to Portland in 2006 to pursue her Master’s degree and started at OHSU in 2006 in Cardiovascular Medicine. Sondra coordinates the Transplant Picnic as well as other outreach programs such as the Combined Transplant Conference and the transplant outreach clinics held in Oregon, Idaho and Washington.