NORMAN — Isela Mena remembers it with vivid clarity. The night her daughter, Mariee Mena, died is a moment in time that will be with the Escondido, Calif. native for the rest of her life.
Yet, that is the way Mena wants it to be. While her daughter’s death from a motorcycle accident on Oct. 6, 2009 was a painful experience, she knows the tragedy also ended up being a blessing for two other families who saw their children’s lives saved due to Mariee’s decision to be an organ donor.
Saturday marked the Fourth Annual Mariee Mena Memorial Walk, and it gave Mena a chance to celebrate her daughter’s life and the lives of those Mariee saved.
“It’s pretty amazing,” Mena said. “Everyone here is pretty amazing. Just like that night. Every time we gather here, it’s like the night that we said our good-byes to Mariee. It wasn’t about an ending. It was about a beginning. We were over 15 people in an ICU room, singing, telling stories. So we were able to say our good-byes. Today we honor her every year in a walk to yield to bikers. Maybe you can save a life.”
The memorial walk began at Marita Hynes Field at the OU Softball Complex, where Mariee Mena was a standout softball player for the Sooners from 2003-2007. More than 30 family members, friends and former teammates joined Mena as they walked the 3.6 miles to 1818 East Alameda St., the site of Mariee’s motorcycle wreck.
Also on hand for the memorial walk were Curtis Kingfisher (kidney) and Krissy Burchell (heart), two recipients of Mariee’s organs after her death. Neither would be alive today if not for Mariee.
“It’s very special,” said Curtis’ mother, Rhonda Kingfisher. It’s really heart warming to know that Mariee’s kind gift saved Curtis’ life. He was at the end of his life and when he got his kidney, it was a joy. But it was also a time of sadness.”
Kingfisher is 16 living a productive life in Northern Oklahoma. He and his family have made it back to Norman every year to be part of the memorial walk.
While neither Kingfisher or Burchell (27) are able to walk the route, having them waiting on the group at the finish line is what event is all about for Mena.
“When we started this walk, it’s not about sadness,” Mena said. “It’s about hope and faith. So Curtis is always at the end of the walk. Krissy is there and it’s uplifting.”
When the memorial walk first began, its main focus was to get drivers to yield to motorcycles. But over the past four years it has also adopted awareness for organ donation.
“I tell my players to make sure on their driver’s license that they are organ donors,” OU softball coach Patty Gasso said. “Because we are here gathering with new family because of Mariee. The fact that she made that decision to be an organ donor saved lives.”
No one knows that better than Renee Burchell, who watched her daughter Krissy deteriorate before her eyes until she got the call.
“That’s absolutely amazing because she was so sick,” Burchell said. “Four years ago she was on dialysis. Her kidneys had shut down. She couldn’t walk. She had been in ICU at this point in time. She was in ICU six weeks waiting for the heart. When we got the notification, it was four years ago today. At 2:30 in the afternoon, they came and told us they found a heart for Krissy.”
But Burchell knows at what cost it came.
“The night that it happened, the first thing you think of as a mom is you’re excited because your baby is going to live,” Burchell said. “Then it hits you that another mom has lost her baby.”
The Menas, Kingfishers and Burchells have now become one family in many respects. From the Menas attending Krissy’s wedding to Curtis coming to the graduation of Isela’s other daughter, they are part of each other’s lives.
“We have a very strong connection,” Mena said. “In fact, it’s not just once a year, we talk all the time. Curtis has gone down to California to meet the rest of the family. We keep in contact by phone just like we do with Krissy and her mom. They are a blessing in my life.”