Educator Helps Grieving Families Give the Gift of Life

Rosetta Rolle Hylton, L.P.N., spends her days turning tragedies into miracles. As the communications coordinator and designated requestor for the Life Alliance Organ Recovery Agency, she saves lives by asking families about to remove a loved one from life support to donate their organs and tissue so others may live.

“It’s all an educational process,’’ says Hylton, who was recently named the “Quiet Storm” Health Care Professional of the Year by South Florida’s In Focus Magazine, an award that recognizes outstanding women in their field. “There are over 111,000 people on the transplant list in the United States, and 18 of those people die every day. You have to tug at the heart string.”

Initially an orthopaedic technician at Jackson Memorial Hospital, Hylton became a nurse in 1970. She was drawn to her sensitive mission while working in the ICU when organ transplantation was in its infancy and federally designated organ recovery organizations such as Life Alliance, a division of the Miller School’s DeWitt Daughtry Family Department of Surgery, did not exist.

The mother of two would approach the families of patients who had been declared brain dead and gently suggest they might find a measure of comfort in giving the gift of life to someone else.

“I’ll be honest with you,’’ she likes to say. “There’s nothing I can do that will help you feel better now, but I can help you with a decision that will help you feel better later.’’

Her dedication to enlisting organ and tissue donors would grow even stronger when her only brother underwent a kidney transplant in 2004. By then, Hylton was a research clinical specialist at the University of Miami Brain Endowment Bank, engaged in visiting the offices of area medical examiners to ask families of the newly deceased to allow the brains of their loved ones to be used for research.

So she jumped at the opportunity when Life Alliance sought an outreach educator to increase public awareness of the need for organ and tissue registration in 2007. After two years on the job, Hylton’s brother died, further strengthening her resolve to educate and register new donors, particularly among African-American and Caribbean populations that typically have low organ and tissue donation rates.

Over the years, she’s given countless presentations, appearing at forums from Key West to Port St. Lucie to the Bahamas, to dispel myths about organ and tissue donation and instill faith in the procurement process. She usually invites organ recipients to accompany her, a practice she initiated, and still finds as much inspiration in their words as the audience does. Among her favorite quotes from a recipient is, “When you die, you have three choices: you can fertilize the soil, feed the worms, or you can give the gift of life.”

Active in African American Outreach, she seeks to raise awareness within communities about the importance of registering as an organ donor. Hylton also promotes the cause on radio and in other media and forums, including the “Gospel for Life” concert held every November at Florida Memorial University. A member of the boards of Keiser Career College and the City College Nursing Program, she also educates nurses about donation.

But still most rewarding to Hylton is conveying the kind of news she imparted to a father who had lost his 4-year-old son on Thanksgiving Day. He found solace in knowing the 6-year-old girl who received his son’s heart left the hospital after only eight days to begin her life anew.

“I love what I do,’’ Hylton says. “Every time I save a life, I hear my brother saying, ‘Way to go, Sis.’”

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