Taylor’s Gift and the Kindred Hearts Program Helps Donor Families Navigate Their Grief Journeys

After the loss of their daughter Taylor, Tara and Todd Storch have used a passion for business to create a foundation rooted in kindness, compassion, and love.

 

In 2021, 41,354 organ transplants were performed in the U.S., indicating a 5.9% increase over 2020, and for the first time, creating an annual total exceeding 40,000. As record-setting streaks continue, so does the need to advance awareness for organ and tissue donation and transplantation across communities.


One Texas-based foundation has used its entrepreneurial spirit and personal story to help donor individuals and families receive the emotional support needed as they journey on the path of grief. TXi spoke with Tara Storch to learn more about Taylor's Gift Foundation, its Kindred Hearts Program, and her family's journey navigating tragedy and loss.


Taylor's Story


"Taylor was our firstborn. Throughout her life, she had such a caring spot for others. She really was that kid in middle school that would pick up her lunch tray, and go sit with the kid that's by themselves. She had a friendly, encouraging, silly, and just welcoming personality…she was a friend to all."


When you get to know Taylor Storch through her mother, Tara, you catch a glimpse into the life of a vibrant, special, and dearly loved child. The eldest of three kids to Tara and Todd Storch, Taylor was 13-years-old when the unimaginable happened during a spring break vacation with her family. On the final run of their first day on the ski slopes, Taylor collided with a tree and tragically did not survive.


"It was all so very shocking for our family, and our world turned upside down in a split second. They had to CareFlite her to a hospital in Grand Junction, Colo. We were approached by a nurse who gently said, 'Your daughter is a beautiful candidate for organ donation. Would you consider it?' It absolutely came from a place of compassion, and we felt, I guess, just cared for and understood that we were going through something really hard."


Those words, filled with empathy and compassion, delivered to a grieving family in the frailest of moments, led the Storches to donate Taylor's organs and give the gift of life to others. Reflecting, Tara recounts how the selfless act mirrored the way Taylor approached life.


"We had never talked about organ donation, not even once in our family, but because of the type of child Taylor was, we knew that she would have said yes to that question. So, we said yes, which created an entire ripple effect of good for five families with the gifts of her heart, both kidneys, her pancreas, liver, and she gave sight with her cornea."


Taylor's story didn't end on that fateful day in Colorado. Instead, Taylor's legacy and her spirit of service continue through Taylor's Gift Foundation —a non-profit founded in 2010 dedicated to emotionally supporting organ, eye, and tissue donor families so that they never grieve alone.


The Kindred Hearts Program


When the family returned to Texas, they quickly created Taylor's Gift Foundation and built a community fostered in hope. The Storches immersed themselves into the world of organ donation, learning more about how the process works, connecting with other donor families, and building relationships with the involved organizations. Through these experiences, they identified a large need to have dedicated emotional support available specifically for families of donors.


"When we came back to Texas and started our shattered life completely over, we really were looking for that kind of community who understood the path we were on, of having a loved one in our family being an organ donor. When we talk about organ donation, it is such a mixture of grief and gratefulness because you have this grief from a sudden loss mixed with this silver lining of gratitude and hope that your loved one was able to save others. Looking for others to connect with us on that level was very difficult to find."


Forged with the same determination and focus that reflected how their daughter Taylor lived, the Storches sought to give life to another facet of the foundation through the Kindred Hearts Program. The program provides dedicated support groups, as well as individual and family emotional support at no cost to the donor family.


"It was something that my husband Todd and I always wanted to step into when we started Taylor's Gift Foundation, that emotional support piece. But back then, emotional support and mental health [were] not something that people received well or talked about. Now, in the world that we live in, where mental health is extremely talked about and discussed openly, we sought to make a beautiful impact by stepping into that gap of emotional support for donor families."


This unique effort to provide emotional support and its critical need throughout communities across the country has garnered praise and is championed by leading experts in medicine, transplants, and donations at New York University (NYU).


Dr. Macey Levan, Associate Professor of Surgery and Population Health for NYU Grossman School of Medicine, and the Director of the Center for Surgical and Transplant Applied Research Qualitative Core at the NYU Langone Transplant Institute, has identified the need for support exists in virtually every community.


"Organ donation and transplantation can be difficult to understand, especially for a family who is suffering a traumatic loss. Our team of researchers is working on national efforts with Taylor's Gift Foundation's Kindred Hearts Program to improve the care of donor families by offering dedicated emotional support, and to improve the culture of organ donation in America. We know the Kindred Hearts program can fill a community need that we have determined exists through our ongoing research."


Contributing to the Greater Good


Like most experiences in life, even those mired by tragedy and loss, a shared sense of community leads to a heightened emotional connection.


"It's so important to have people who are walking alongside you who truly get it. To be with others who have walked through grief themselves because they understand the pain and confusion that comes with a sudden loss. Just to have someone there in your corner, who can say, 'I understand how that feels,' and meaning it, is extremely important."


The greatest affirmation from the Kindred Hearts Program comes with knowing no donor family has to go through the process alone. Seeing the impact the program's endeavors have on those mourning a loss of a loved one who gave the gift of life through organ donation is very powerful.


"It's that kind of validation [where] we can be a string of hope that they hang on to. We want donor families to feel supported and know that their loved ones' gifts go on. They can, too."

 

Looking for more information?


Visit taylorsgift.org for more on Taylor's Gift Foundation and the Kindred Hearts Program, and follow them on Instagram @taylorsgiftfoundation.


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