A gift to organ donor families: Handmade butterflies crafted in memory of loved ones

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- Despite losing her sight, Alex Cummings had a rather eye-opening experience when she was diagnosed with a rare fungal infection.

"The only way that I had a chance of recovering any of my vision was through a corneal transplant surgery," she said. "So it was very bittersweet when I realized that someone had to lose a loved one in order for me to regain my sight."

Cummings credits a brave stranger who made the decision to donate their organs for changing her life. But simply writing a thank you note did not seem adequate.

"I realized I needed to create a way to fully say thank you to these donor families," she said. "And that's how the Remembrance Butterfly Program was born."

Cummings took a job with the Lions Eye Bank of Delaware Valley, which was responsible for securing her transplant. They partnered with The Clay Studio, a nonprofit in Philadelphia, to craft butterflies to send to families who lost loved ones.

"We send these butterflies on the six month anniversary of a loved one's passing, so the donor family receives them in the mail," said Cummings. "Each butterfly is a little different and a little unique, just like every recipient and every donor family is."

Althea Fogle is a part of one of those donor families. Her daughter, Tiffany, sadly passed away from a pulmonary embolism in October of 2012.

"I was blessed to be a donor mom and to give two people the gift of sight because of her cornea donations," said Fogle. "That's what she would have wanted because she was always helping people."

Fogle and her family were invited to one of the Remembrance Butterfly Program workshops. It was themed around her daughter, incorporating her favorite music as a backdrop for the crafting activity.

"We called her our purple butterfly. So when I got that butterfly, it was so significant," said Fogle. "And then to be able to come to The Clay Studio and to make the butterflies to give to other donor families was such a blessing."

Next month, November, is Eye Donation Month. Anyone interested in registering to become an organ, eye, and tissue donor can visit registerme.org.

To learn more about Lions Eye Bank of Delaware Valley, visit their website or send an email to info@lebdv.org.

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