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Young Antioch organ donor’s heart lives on

1/14/13      Antioch

A one year memorial lantern lighting Hillside Cemetery for 19 year old Elizabeth 'Lizzie'

1/14/13 Antioch A one year memorial lantern lighting at Hillside Cemetery for 19 year old Elizabeth "Lizzie" Collins who was killed in a car accident on I-94 near Lake Forest. Lizzie's organs were donated saving the lives of 5 people and giving two the gift of sight. | Dan Luedert~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: February 17, 2013 6:28AM

ANTIOCH — A year ago Sunday, Krissy Kram recalled, the family and friends of Elizabeth “Lizzie” Collins were “jammed into a little hospital space,” saying their goodbyes after the 19-year-old succumbed to injuries suffered in a pileup on the Tri-State Tollway.

After deciding to hold a ceremony around the one-year anniversary of her passing, much of that same group gathered after dark at Hillside Cemetery on Monday night to send Collins a message in the January air. Their chosen method? Wish lanterns — biodegradable paper bubbles that float away from the heat of a small flame.

“They’re getting really popular for weddings, (and) I was trying to find a way to celebrate her life when I found them on the Internet,” said Kram, Collins’ older sister. “We brought 72 lanterns and they all went up.”

In the crowd were family members that drove in from as far away as Oak Lawn and Tinley Park, including aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, grandparents and great-grandparents. Kram said everyone was invited to write a sentiment on a lantern before launching it.

“We passed out Sharpies and people wrote down what they wanted,” Kram said. “We wrote all kinds of things — ‘we love you,’ ‘hope you get this.’ Some people wrote her name on it, the date, things like that.”

Collins, a 2010 graduate of Antioch High School, was left with multiple traumatic injuries on Jan. 13, 2102, after her Jeep Liberty was struck by a semi-trailer that lost control on the northbound Tri-State near Half Day Road while trying to avoid a three-car accident. Her passing at Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville began a new chapter for her family and individuals across the country, as her decision to become an organ donor set in motion a series of medical procedures that saved lives and restored sight.

According to information supplied by Kram and Collins’ mother, two men in California each received one of Collins’ corneas; her left kidney went to a woman in Illinois; her liver was donated to a 61-year-old Illinois man; and a 26-year-old mother of three, who had been in a Chicago-area hospital for a month with cardiac problems, received Lizzie Collins’ heart.

While confidentiality concerns have kept more specific information private, Kram said her family told officials at the Itasca-based Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network (; 630-758-2600) that they welcome contact with any and all of the recipients. To date, they have fielded a letter from the family of a 49-year-old Georgia woman named Susan, a Type-1 diabetic who was on dialysis before receiving Collins’ right kidney and pancreas. Another person also received Lizzie’s organs.

Kram said her family hopes to connect with the recipients, and word was passed recently that something might be arranged with the 26-year-old mother.

“We’re waiting to hear back from the woman who got her heart. We want to hear her heartbeat again,” she said. “Lizzie was great with kids, so we were happy to find out that she would be helping to take care of someone’s children.”

While it remains to be seen if Lizzie Collins’ loved ones will make the wish-lantern launch an annual ritual on the anniversary of her organ donations, Kram said plans are being discussed to host a second annual benefit this April — National Donate Life Month — at Michael’s Pub in Trevor, Wis.

“Last year, we had 200 people attend and about 40 of them registered to be organ donors that night,” she said. “When Lizzie got her driver’s license, she asked me and our sisters if she should be an organ donor, and we told her that we were, but she should make up her own mind. And she did it on her own.”

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