SALT LAKE CITY — For a long time, Deedra Lambert felt a persistent urge to donate a kidney — though she didn't have a family member who needed one.
For Lambert, that urge arose from a feeling of gratitude for her own well-being.
"I feel like I was blessed with really good health," Lambert says. "I wanted to help other people. I wanted to pay it forward, I wanted to honor the blessings I had by sharing my good fortune with somebody else."
The nagging feeling she had would be especially pronounced around Christmastime. Lambert says typically her personality doesn't push her to bake cookies or prepare meals for neighbors, but when it came to becoming what is known as a good Samaritan kidney donor, the concept of changing a person's life moved her.
"This is something where I can help someone in a really profound way," she remembers thinking.
In 2013, Lambert, of Salt Lake City, followed through with her conviction and donated a kidney to a stranger on the transplant waiting list. On Tuesday, she was on hand for a holiday celebration put on by Intermountain Donor Services' Yes Utah campaign, where organ donors were honored and the organization urged Utahns to consider the value of giving "the gift of life" to those in need — whether in life or death.
"One donor can save up to nine lives," said Alex McDonald, director of public education and public relations for Intermountain Donor Services.
Intermountain Donor Services celebrated donors Tuesday with personalized decorations adorning a Christmas tree at the Midtown Plaza in downtown Salt Lake. Writings on the ornaments paid homage to those who elected to make their precious organs available to those on waiting lists.
"Thanks to you, I can ski again," one ornament wrote. "Packing a new liver since 2008," another one said. One simply said, "I love you."
It is that deep-seated emotional connection made through organ donation that has brought solace and purpose into the life of Gerry Osman since her teenage son's sudden death almost 13 years ago.
"It has been a journey I will always be grateful for, and I know Sebastian is really happy those recipients get a second chance," Osman said.
Sebastian was 16 when he died in an auto-pedestrian crash. Just weeks earlier, he had told his mom he was touched by a presentation in his driver's education class which urged the prospective drivers to consider opting in as an organ donor on their driver's license. Osman said he told her he wanted to be a donor if anything were ever to happen to him.
Without that conversation, Osman said, she is "99.9 percent sure" she would have declined to allow her son's organs to be donated, amid the chaos of her grief. But "because of that very brief conversation, I was able to know what my son wanted during the most horrible time of my life."
"To actually donate … that day was truly the greatest gift of my life," Osman said. She has since had an emotional reunion with the woman who now has her son's liver. One decoration adorning the Christmas tree Wednesday read: "Sebastian + Carol = Life."
Osman, of Salt Lake City, now regularly makes the same type of organ donation presentation to driver's education classes that once inspired her son. She implored Utah families to take time over the holidays to have substantive conversations with one another about where they stand on organ donation. That way, she said, "your family is more apt to feel (supportive), even if they disagree."
Brennan Christensen, who suffered severe burns over about half of his body when he was 11, said "you can't really describe how you feel toward other people who give willingly" of their body to improve others' quality of life.
"Without that, I wouldn't be here today," said Christensen, of Payson.
Christensen, now 29, said he received more than two square feet of donated skin tissue, helping him survive his severe injuries and improve his daily quality of life.
"To honor the people that have been able to donate … it means a lot to me, and I'm excited to share that with other people."
Christensen said he has enjoyed being an example of how organ donation can change lives for those who are hesitant about donating skin tissue.
One woman he talked to, he said, had balked at the idea of donation altogether after finding out skin tissue was on the list of things a person can donate. After meeting Christensen and learning about his recovery, the woman "said she had no idea how important it was" for skin tissue recipients to have a donor as well, he said.
Not every organ donation is met with a cathartic reunion with the recipient by a living donor or a deceased donor's loved one; Lambert still has not met the transplant waitlist stranger whose life she changed. But she says it has done nothing to curb her feeling of gratification for having given a second chance at life to someone who badly needed it.
"You're giving life," she said.
The United Network for Organ Sharing says nearly 115,000 Americans are currently on waiting lists in need of a lifesaving organ transplant, and that about 20 people per day die while on a transplant waiting list. Anyone in Utah interested in becoming an organ donor can find more information about how to do so at yesutah.org.