A mural with a message rises in Austin

'Hope and Life for Everyone,' on side of Loretto Hospital, a colorful tribute to organ and tissue donation

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By Michael Romain

Editor

A vibrant mural now spans the entirety of a once blank exterior brick wall of Loretto Hospital that faces the corner of Central Avenue and West Flournoy Street in Austin. On June 27, officials with Loretto and the Gift of Hope Organ and Tissue Donor Network were on hand for a formal unveiling ceremony outside of the hospital. 

The mural, which commuters can see from the Eisenhower Expressway, depicts a man and a woman "who represent the diversity of organ and tissue donor recipients" said Mauricio Ramirez, the artist commissioned to paint the mural, titled "Hope and Life for Everyone." 

"The two are facing each other and connected through a heart that symbolizes the donation," Ramirez said. "An hourglass embedded in a kaleidoscope-like mural not only represents those who are waiting for a lifesaving transplant, but the additional time and hope gained by recipients of organ and tissue donors. A vibrant butterfly floats at the bottom of the mural and serves as a symbol known in many cultures to represent endurance, change, hope and life." 

Kevin Cmunt, the president and CEO of Gift of Hope — a nonprofit that spreads awareness about, and coordinates organ and tissue donation in Illinois and northwestern Indiana — said that there's still a critical shortage of organ and tissue donors in the region. He added that perhaps Ramirez's mural can inspire people to sign up as donors who haven't already. 

In Illinois, according to information in a joint statement released by Loretto and Gift of Hope, more than 4,000 people are waiting for organ transplants and "thousands more may benefit from donated tissue." 

Cmunt said that hopefully the mural can "remind the community how donation benefits every family." Cmunt said that the mural at Loretto is the second mural it has installed at hospitals in the city. The first was installed at Norwegian American Hospital in Humboldt Park. He said the idea to put up the murals was the idea of Jessica Rodriguez, Gift of Hope's development director. 

George Miller, Loretto's president and CEO, said that the Loretto mural's butterfly symbol "not only conveys our mission of bringing hope and healing to the communities served by us, but it speaks truth to power about disparities in health care, and how organ and tissue donation bridges all cultures together and saves lives." 

Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th) said that he hopes the mural sparks a conversation about wellness in his ward. 

"Those that know me know that I love art," Taliaferro said during the June 27 unveiling. "I try to put it throughout the ward. I have it in my home. I have it in my office. Why? Because I believe it's a conversation. People gather around art to talk about issues and what's important to them. I'm very hopeful that the mural will not just be something that people drive by and take a look at. I hope it sparks conversation about changing lives through organ and tissue donation."

State Rep. Camille Y. Lilly (78th), Loretto's chief external affairs officer and chair of the House legislative committee on Museums, Arts, & Cultural Enhancements, said that art is "the essence of people" and lauded Gift of Hope for its mural campaign. 

For Tarcia Patton, the mural is more than a work of art — it represents her own testimony. Her son, Jermaine Cullum Jr., died suddenly in 2014 from congenital heart disease that went undetected. The 16-year-old, who played basketball for Christ the King Jesuit College Prep in Austin, died three days after collapsing during a tournament game. 

 As with the figures in the mural, Patton said that she and her son — whose liver, kidneys, pancreas and lungs were donated to three people — are now deeply connected to the people whose lives he helped extend. 

"It's like all of the recipients are part of my family now," Patton said. "And I met them thorough Gift of Hope." 

CONTACT: michael@austinweeklynews.com 

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