SALT LAKE CITY — Stan Taylor, 71, of West Valley City, took a deep breath as he tried to express his complicated feelings toward his close family friends, the Morgas family.
"It's still sometimes a little hard to express how we feel because what I have, the gift, they lost — their daughter," he tearfully explained.
In Taylor's chest sat the lungs of Priscilla Morgas, who died of a stroke in 2015 at the age of 40.
The two families met about a year after the transplant and hit it off immediately. The families exchanged letters for several months before they met and Taylor, who's an artist, sent his first painting after the operation to the Morgas family — a painting that today hangs in the Tooele home of Priscilla Morgas' parents, Evelyn and Lino Morgas.
It's stories like these the University of Utah Hospital highlighted Tuesday in honor of National Donate Life Month. The hospital, along with others in the state, raised a flag to symbolize the need for organ donations in Utah.
"They're just the same sort of people we are, we just sort of clicked in every way," Taylor said about the Morgas family.
Their kids had attended the same school, they had similar interests and they each now consider the other family. But for Evelyn Morgas, Stan Taylor literally is her family.
"I hugged him and I cried and I didn't want to let him go because I felt that my daughter was in him, so you know I felt like I was hugging her — and I still do every time I hug him," Morgas said, describing the first time she met Stan Taylor.
Priscilla's nickname was "Mama-cilla," describing her caring and giving nature, her mother said. Evelyn Morgas said her daughter would've loved knowing her organs helped save lives.
"She would've loved that," Morgas said. "She gave to everybody and took care of everybody so for her to know that she helped all these people is amazing. I know she would've loved it, would've loved it definitely."
The families still keep in touch and meet up regularly. Anita Taylor, Stan Taylor's wife, is close friends with Evelyn Morgas.
"We're like best friends, we're family, we consider ourselves our family," Evelyn Morgas said. "We have such connections, we call each other, we check on things and say 'This is happening, this is happening,' and we do walks together."
There are more than 123,000 people across the nation waiting for organs and more than 750 are in Utah, according to Utah Donor Registry. The flags billowing across the state's hospitals represent these people "waiting for a second chance at life," according to a U. Hospital news release. People impacted by organ donation were invited to sign the flags, which will fly until next April.
Evelyn Morgas described her daughter as a "spitfire" and devoted mother to her two children.
"People say they're buried and they're in the ground, but this one, Priscilla, is not buried and she's not in the ground, not all of her anyway," Evelyn Morgas said. "Just so many parts of her are just somewhere in the world living on."
Dr. Safdar Ansari, chairman of the Organ Donor Council at University Hospital, said organ donation can help bring families closure. He also works in the neuro critical care unit, where brain injured patients are common. He said he's seen firsthand the impact organ donation can have on families.
"With severe brain injury, often that is fatal, there is a tragic suffering process the family goes through," Ansari said. "And where I see organ donation helping most is with the families and the caregivers; their grieving process is really, really alleviated and improved with the knowledge that their loved one, though … passed away, their loved one's organs survive and give love and give hope and give meaning to other severely disabled and very very ill patients."
He encouraged people who aren't organ donors to research the process.
"Learn, read, talk, talk about the whole process, learn about the process and if at the end of it you have questions, ask those questions and if and when you are ready to mark that 'Yes' please go ahead and do so," he said.
According to officials, University of Utah Hospital hit a record number of transplants and recovered 91 total organs in 2018, 45 of which were transplanted locally.
Lauren Warner, who received a liver transplant from a California woman in 2014, said she first saw the impact of her transplant when she looked in the mirror and saw the whites of her eyes were white, not yellow.
"I think I've jampacked more life into those four years than the previous nine I was living in liver failure starting at the age of 17."
She's since ran a few half-marathons, gotten married and enjoyed outdoor activities like kayaking and hiking.
A few years after her transplant, Warner spoke to her donor's sister who told her Susan, her donor, lived by a Jewish principle that translates to "heal the world, or repair the world," Warner recalled Tuesday.
"And it's something I keep in the forefront, to try and live my life in a way (to) use my experience to help others and also to honor Susan's legacy," she said.