Tudor Family honors daughter's death with a life-saving gift

October 10-16, 2022

By Wesley Brown


As ARORA undergoes its own internal recovery with major staff and operational changes, those accomplishments alone would be enough to applaud ARORA’s amazing turnaround. But ARORA CEO Mark Tudor also came to the agency with an incredible and inspiring personal story that is just as transformative as the change he has brought to the Arkansas OPO. 


In July 2018, Mark and his wife, Shelly, experienced a situation that brought their personal and professional lives to a head. It all started after their 22-year-old daughter, Marissa, went to the hospital for a typically normal procedure to get her tonsils taken out. 


“My daughter four years ago had her tonsils out, and they cut her right carotid artery and she spent about four weeks in the hospital but ended up dying and becoming an organ donor, " recalled Tudor. Her gift provided life-saving organs to five people across the country and tissue for hundres more.


Tudor said his family has met many of the organ recipients. Marissa’s lung went to a woman in Cleveland; her heart to a 25-year-old in New York who is doing great; her liver to a woman in Cincinnati; and her kidney to recipients in Michigan, which started a chain transplant reaction. 


“Her kidneys were directly donated to two people. And they are both doing great,” said Tudor. However, one of those recipients’ family members has since donated a kidney to someone in Tennessee and their family subsequently donated kidneys to someone in Detroit, where another family member donated one to a recipient in Florida. 


“So, it is like five people deep. My daughter’s one transplant has led to six kidney transplants and all the other organs,” Tudor said proudly.


At the time of her death, Tudor was working as director of hospital and recovery services at Gift of Life Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich. He had begun his career more than 20 years earlier after receiving his Bachelor of Science degree from Bowling Green (Ohio) State University and his Master of Strategy and Leadership degree from Michigan State University in Lansing, Mich. He also holds certifications in transplant preservation and procurement coordination.


He said he left Michigan to his former role as senior director of organ procurement organization operations at LifeNet Health in Virginia Beach, Va. The life transition nearly saw him leave the organ donation industry well before he decided to take on the challenge of transforming ARORA. 


“I will say at that time, the only reason I left Michigan was because I just wanted to get away and I almost got out of the whole industry because you go through [Marissa’s death], and it is life-changing,” he said. “Eventually, I looked at it another way and decided that I have to be better for everybody. I said, ‘How can I make the biggest difference and how can I honor what she did,’” said Tudor. “We moved to Virginia, and this [job] came up, and I know I only stayed there for a year, but I knew I could make a huge impact at ARORA. That really drove me to move here and do what I do know — to honor her.” 


Since Marissa’s death, the Tudor family has continued to honor Marissa in many ways. In 2020, she was one of 44 organ, eye and tissue donors honored with a floragraph at the annual Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena, Calif. Each year, the Donate Life Rose Parade float is the center of a national effort to reach viewers from around the nation and across the globe to share the important message that organ, eye and tissue donation saves and heals lives. 


During the 2020 event, only a few months before the COVID-19 pandemic began, Tudor and his family traveled to the Los Angeles suburb and were able to view the parade from the Rose Bowl grandstand. 


“We are honored to take part in this celebration of Marissa’s life,” Gift of Life Michigan CEO Dorrie Dils said at the event. “It’s another way we can honor Marissa and the many people she helped through her gift of life and, by extension, honor all donors.”


As one of the leading diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) experts in the organ donation industry, Tudor said he was also very proud of the fact Marissa’s organ saved the lives of transplant recipients across races. Since her death, four transplant recipients that received Marissa’s life-saving organs have agreed to meet the Tudors.


“This is a blind system of who gets a transplant. We don’t know; you push a button, and it goes there, [but] we have no idea,” said Tudor. “But we found out my daughter’s kidney recipient was Filipino, the other one is Middle Eastern, the liver recipient is Hispanic, and the lung recipient is African American, and the only person we have not met is the heart recipient.


“To know that my work at AMAT and multicultural diversity is super important to me. And to know that every one of her organs went to someone of a different color or race, for me that was God telling me this is the right thing and the work that I do and what I do is important because he has blessed everyone that I am working with,” said Tudor. “That was huge for me.”


Before her death, Tudor said Marissa had always been a healthy child, but she came down with strep throat every winter. She was in her third year of nursing school when she decided to have a tonsillectomy. Complications arose after that routine procedure, however. She spent nine days in the hospital before she recovered. Even then, her throat was still swollen, which doctors said was typical.


She was released from the hospital once the swelling went down but, two days later, she started to bleed from the mouth. Her mother called 911 and then took her to the hospital — they met the ambulance on the way — but Marissa blacked out en route. Doctors at the hospital worked feverishly to save her, but she never recovered. She was declared brain dead about a week later.


Through her first hospital stay, Tudor said Marissa had another idea to help others. Her hair was long, thick and curly and the brushes at the hospital could not adequately go through it. She came up with “A Brush of Kindness,” a donation drive to supply hospitals with better hairbrushes so women could feel better while they healed.


Mark and Shelly have since created a 501c3 non-profit, hosted a golf outing and, through the organization, donated more than 5,000 brushes to hospitals across the country. There are plans to create a map and pin each location to provide another visual reminder of Marissa and the legacy she leaves behind.


Tudor said her daughter’s impact has turned his career and profession into his life’s work and transforming spiritual journey. 


“If you can imagine receiving a transplant, and everyone around you gets to have you for another many years. My daughter has added years to people’s lives who wouldn’t have had it. It is pretty amazing,” concluded Tudor.  


Photo captions:


1. Marissa Tudor, the late 22-year-old daughter of ARORA CEO Mark Tudor and his wife, Shelly, died in July 2018 after a four-month stay in the hospital that was supposed to have been a routine elective surgery to have her tonsils taken out. However, she lost her life one semester short of graduating college but elected to be an organ donor. Her gift has provided life-saving organs to five people across the country and tissues for hundreds more.

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