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PHILADELPHIA — The Donor Dash, a staple in Philadelphia for the last 20 years, is a 10K, 5K and 3K running and walking event to raise money and awareness for organ and tissue donations.
As the event continues to grow year after year, one thing that remains the same is Team Josh, a group of family, friends and community members from West Chester walking in honor of Josh Sager, who passed away in 2000.
“Every year here at the Dash, we have so many families who walk in memory of someone,” said John Green, director of community relations with the Gift of Life donor program, which hosts the Dash. “Many times, these families come and go, but one team that has really stuck out has been Team Josh. They have been here since 2001. I had a chance to talk with them the other day. They’re an amazing family.”
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Sager was born with congenital heart disease and after open-heart surgery when he was 10 months old, he got to be a normal child without having to take any medicine and no restrictions.
It wasn’t until he was 16 when his heart condition worsened and was told he would need a heart transplant to survive and so he was put on a transplant list.
Unfortunately, after almost 10 months on the list, a new heart never arrived in time and Sager passed away at just 17 years old.
“Josh was waiting for a transplant that never came, which is so sad,” Green said. “This family, ever since then, has been here. They’re the longest-standing family team here at the Dash. It’s awesome to see them continue their support. Lea (Holland), his mom, is doing whatever she can to spread the word, saying no family should have to go through what her family has.”
Holland never realized how many people, including children, were waiting for transplants and the following year, decided to take measures into her own hands by participating in the Dash.
“The next year, a friend had told me about (the Dash) and that’s how we got involved,” she said. “It was something we wanted to do and get involved with.”
It started out as just Holland and her daughter for a few years, but since that time, Team Josh has grown exponentially.
“The team had grown so much,” Holland said. “Now we have anywhere between 70 to 80 people participating every year.”
The group consists of not only family and friends, but people from the community who have heard their story have also stepped up to help.
For the 2015 Donor Dash, Team Josh came out in full force with its biggest group yet with 87 people.
Not only that, they came in with a huge amount of money as well.
“This year we came in $300 short of $10,000,” Holland said. “It’s phenomenal.”
Sager’s story is one of many. According to the Gift of Life, 21 people die each day waiting for a life-saving transplant. Of the 10,000 to 12,000 people who die each year who are considered medically suitable for organ donation, only roughly 6,000 do so.
That’s where the Donor Dash comes in.
Part of their mission is to educate people about tissue and organ donation as just one person can enhance or save more than 50 lives donating.
The Dash has grown through its 20 years from a couple hundred people to its record-breaking 2015 year with 12,000 people taking part.
“I’ve been here 14 years and every year I’m surprised, especially when I’m at the start line and you see all the teams go by,” Green said. “This year, with the walkers, it took 45 minutes for all of these folks to cross the starting line. Every name of every team is read. It’s the least we could do to remember and thank 440 teams. It’s overwhelming sometimes just to see how much this has grown.”