On a Sunday in September 2019, the Sharp Grossmont Hospital team learned that one of their own, beloved Safety team member Kevin Gubbe, would pass that day after being hospitalized there for some time.
While that reality sent a somber shock across the hospital, it was no surprise to anyone when they learned that Kevin was an organ donor. What came together that day for this Sharp employee of 38 years was a powerful and emotional tribute to Kevin, in real time, in the hospital's halls.
The honor walk
An honor walk is a gathering of hospital staff, family and friends who line the halls during an organ donor's final moments. These tributes are becoming increasingly familiar in hospitals across the country.
Sharp Grossmont's medical intensive care unit (MICU) was in the early stages of establishing the honor walk as a formal program for future organ donors and becoming the first Sharp hospital to do so. That day, however, it seemed only fitting that the first of these tributes could be bestowed upon Kevin and his family.
Lindsey Ryan, manager of the MICU, said it was a privilege to pull off such a deserved tribute to Kevin. Working with team members, administration and Lifesharing — the nonprofit organ and tissue recovery organization, also a partner with Sharp — the tribute came together in less than 12 hours.
It was all at once difficult and sad, yet beautiful and very fitting.
"Knowing that Kevin was one of our own, our team worked determinedly to coordinate an honor walk with interdisciplinary team members, administration and Lifesharing," Ryan says.
"It was a profound privilege to pay tribute to Kevin with the distinction of being the honoree of our first honor walk."
At the honor walk, a solemn procession of family and friends accompanies the patient as they are wheeled from their hospital room to the OR, where their organs will be procured to become lifesaving gifts to strangers in waiting. Staff and others line the hallway in support. The moment provides something that is powerful and sacred during such a difficult time - the opportunity for friends, family and hospital staff to give thanks for the patient's selfless act.
That Sunday, more than 70 people came to the MICU to take part in the honor walk and pay tribute to Kevin.
A 'shirt off his back' kind of guy
"We didn't realize this was Sharp Grossmont's first honor walk and were absolutely astounded to see that entire hall, and much of the next hall, lined with people, particularly on a Sunday," says Marita Gubbe, Kevin's wife.
A registered organ donor herself, Marita is a diligent advocate for organ donation, and in those difficult moments was reminded of what an impact Kevin's decision would make.
"When I met Kevin 32 years ago, one of the many things that attracted me to him was his 'shirt off his back' attitude," says Marita. "Kevin always wanted to help people, so being an organ donor wasn't an action or thought. It was Kevin being Kevin."
"For both of us, there was never any thought other than to help someone else out. In death, we don't need the organs anymore, but many people out there certainly do."
Soon after Kevin's passing, it was shared that a man and woman each received one of Kevin's kidneys; the man had been on dialysis for nine years. In addition, Kevin's donated tissue will go on to help the lives of up to 50 others.
An honor walk for Kevin and the Gubbe family was a small but mighty way for the Sharp Grossmont team to show their gratitude, and to say goodbye in such a special way to their dear teammate.
"What I want to say is thank you," says Marita. "We knew Kevin was special as 'our Kevin,' but we didn't realize how special he was to everyone else."
You can join the Donate Life California registry by checking "Yes" at the Department of Motor Vehicles when applying for a driver's license or identification card. You also can sign up online in English and Spanish. One organ donor can save up to eight lives, and one tissue donor can improve the lives of up to 50 others.