HAMMOND | One by one, nearly 40 people dipped cups in a container of holy water and emptied them at the base of two budding magnolias in a grassy courtyard.
One magnolia represents organ and tissue donors. The other represents the recipients, said Linda Kraiko, senior director of patient services for Franciscan St. Margaret Health hospitals in Dyer and Hammond.
The watering ceremony was part of the Gift of Hope prayer service Friday outside Franciscan St. Margaret Health hospital in Hammond, honoring the gift of organ and tissue donation.
Among the grateful were Chris Vanni, director of Franciscan Northern Indiana Region quality service and quality improvement, and her son Michael Vanni.
She told the story of her late husband, Angelo Vanni, and how a donor's stem cell gift gave them an extra year and a half together.
They met 41 years ago, and Chris Vanni described Angelo as a "drop-dead gorgeous Italian."
"He rocked my world," she said. "My heart did flip-flops."
They married in 1976 and had two sons, who blessed them with five grandchildren, she said.
In August 2011, her husband was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, a cancer that originates in bone marrow.
Doctors brought his condition into remission, so her husband went on a stem cell donor waiting list. The registry found a 23-year-old man in Italy who was a match, and her husband received the transplant.
He was cancer-free for three months, but the cancer returned. An American donor was located. The transplant was a success, but the chemotherapy was too strong for Angelo Vanni's body.
He died Oct. 18 at age 56.
After Vanni died, his grandson Mikey drew a picture for his grandfather and asked his parents to mail it to heaven.
More than 1,500 Indiana residents and more than 120,000 Americans nationwide need an organ transplant.
About 18 people die every day waiting for an organ donation, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.