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Organ donations by Elsie Mahe featured in I-15 freeway billboard tribute by Kidney Foundation

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Billboard honoring Elsie Mahe

Billboard honoring Elsie Mahe

Courtesy National Kidney Foundation

This is such a beautiful tribute to our Elsie. We are so lucky to live in a time of medical miracles such as organ transplantation. It has been such an honor to have had a part in these lifesaving miracles. – Sunny Mahe

The legacy of departed Elsie Mahe received a tender extension on Thursday when The National Kidney Foundation of Utah and Idaho raised an I-15 billboard in her honor — and it caught her mother Sunny by surprise.

Elsie, age 3, died after a tragic home accident just before Thanksgiving this past fall and her story and subsequent donation of her organs by her family has inspired many. She is the daughter of BYU assistant football coach Reno Mahe, and his wife, a former all-conference volleyball star.

The billboard, which is located on the west side of I-15 near her home in Lehi, was designed with the tribute of honoring her sacrifice with also crediting her for saving the lives of five people.

“When Reno Mahe saw the design, his face just lit up," said Kidney Foundation of Utah and Idaho CEO Deen Vetterli. "He then said he wanted it to be a surprise to his wife and family after Reno drove her by the billboard Thursday."

Sunny was stunned, according to Vetterli, who said to her knowledge, as head of a charity, this is the first time the foundation has made a tribute like this anywhere in the country. “And we’ve been at it like forever.”

Sunny Mahe, whose emotional posts on Facebook after Elsie’s death received nationwide attention, had no idea of the tribute.

She reacted humbly.

"This is such a beautiful tribute to our Elsie. We are so lucky to live in a time of medical miracles such as organ transplantation. It has been such an honor to have had a part in these lifesaving miracles. We are so touched that Elsie's influence will live on, not just through the recipients of the organs she donated, but perhaps she will cause others to consider doing the same. What a wonderful legacy she leaves of life and hope!"

Vetterli said she received word from a recipient mother, whose 6-week-old baby received a live-saving heart transplant from another 6-week donor infant. The woman said this billboard tribute answered prayers on how to show gratitude. “She said, ‘Oh, Deen, this brought tears to my eyes. How beautiful. What a powerful message and way to honor this family. I am always thinking of ways to thank and honor our donor family and nothing every seems to do their donation justice but this is really beautiful. I have a friend who died in her 20s and her family donated her heart and eyes. I know this has brought so much peace to her sweet family to know she has been able to help families. There is nothing greater you can do to honor a donor than this memorial.”

Vetterli said Utah County billboard will guarantee there will be more donations of organs by families and save lives. “That Reno’s family has been so supportive, and that he is so well known in the community, this is a very big deal for awareness of these tragedies that can bring good.”

One of the goals of the National Kidney Foundation of Utah and Idaho is to promote organ donation, which can bring good health and a new life to those who receive an organ transplant.

"While Elsie's passing was heartbreaking to her family and to all of us, wonderful miracles resulted from the kindness of the Mahe family to give the gift of life to others," said Vetterli,

"Today there more than 120,000 people in the United States waiting for life-saving transplants. Twenty-two of those on waiting lists die each day as the need for organs always exceeds the supply. We extend heartfelt thanks to the Mahe Family for allowing us to honor Elsie through their inspirational story of giving life to others.”

Other billboard campaigns by the Utah-based charity have included photos of LaVell Edwards and Ron McBride and Kyle Whittingham and Bronco Mendenhall.

Those who wish to honor Elsie and help the foundation to promote organ donation awareness can donate their used cars by calling 1-800-TOW-KARS or go to TOWKARS.ORG.

For more information, please contact the Foundation at (801) 226-5111 or by email at www.kidneyut.org.