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Beline Obeid

A daughter's legacy

Beverly and Timothy Butler

Mary Anne Brush Staff Writer

February 04, 2016
Since losing their daughter, Rebecca Joy Butler, at age 20 in 2011, Beverly and Timothy Butler have devoted their lives to shining a light on her story and celebrating her life by helping others.

Becky Butler, a student at Wayne State University, was active on campus and as a member of Alpha Gamma Delta sorority. After her death, her parents, of Grosse Pointe Woods, established the Rebecca Joy Butler Memorial Endowed Scholarship to assist a student with financing their business education. The recipient needed to be a student at the Mike Ilitch School of Business and demonstrate the same zest for life, love for others and potential for leadership as Becky Butler.

In 2014, a gift from an anonymous donor allowed for the establishment of the Rebecca Joy Butler Study Abroad Endowed Scholarship. The recipient of this scholarship — given for the first time this year — also must be a business student. Timothy Butler, an associate professor of supply chain management in the business school, sees the value of travel abroad, as he and his wife are involved with leading the study abroad program for the business school and have visited businesses in the Czech Republic, Poland and Italy.

Becky Butler, too, loved to travel, venturing to Europe and Hawaii and participating in mission trips to the Navajo nation in Utah and Costa Rica as a member of Grosse Pointe Memorial Church. However, her travel was limited after she was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension in 2008 while a student at Grosse Pointe North High School. She attended Purdue University for a year, but transferred to Wayne State University after she was added to the donor registry list, requiring her to be closer to home. While she died before a donor match was found, she herself was an organ donor.

"It's meant so much to us that she was able to help someone else, as she would have wanted," said Beverly Butler.

Since their daughter's death, the Butlers have made it their mission to spread awareness about the importance of donor registry. They have gotten involved in the Gift of Life Michigan Campus Challenge, an annual event enlisting people to register to be organ, tissue and eye donors. The challenge runs five weeks and puts college rivalries to life-saving purposes. Two trophies — one for the college or university registering the most donors and one for the most donor registrations compared to student population — are awarded to the top schools.

The Butlers heard about the program when their daughter decided to organize an organ donor drive with her sorority sisters in spring 2011, shortly before she died. Their involvement has since grown.

Rebecca Joy Butler Courtesy photo
"I just wanted to have a little table at the student center," Beverly Butler said. "I didn't know anything about the competition." With the help of members of Alpha Gamma Delta, among others, Wayne State has won the competition the past four years. The trophy has found a home in Timothy Butler's office in the business school. While many departments have helped in their efforts, the business school has been home base, Beverly Butler said.

The competition is ongoing and the Butlers watch the progress in real time on their smartphones. "We all have it on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram," Timothy Butler said.

While once the Butlers led the effort, the students have now taken over and the couple serves as advisors.

"We brought the idea to the table, but the students do the hard work," Beverly Butler said.

During the Butlers' four years of involvement, the Wayne State team has registered a total of 3,000 new donors. The Butlers credit Secretary of State Ruth Johnson for the role she played in helping increase the number of donor registries in Michigan.

"Ruth has done a fantastic job of bringing awareness at the Secretary of State office," Timothy Butler said. In fact, according to the two of them, Michigan has gone from one of the lowest states in the country to the middle of the pack.

Part of the process involves educating people about this "important and not talked about issue," Beverly Butler said.

According to Gift of Life Michigan, 3,581 people in Michigan are waiting for organs as of the first of the year. The number is 125,000 nationally.

"Eighteen people die a day waiting for a transplant," she said. "It's a scarcity problem."

It's also important to dispel myths and misperceptions. For example, being on the donor registration list has no impact on quality of care. "Of course doctors are going to do everything they can to save you."

There's no age limit on organ donation.

"Older people think, 'I'm 70; no one would want my organs,'" Beverly Butler said. "That isn't true."

Even people with chronic diseases can donate, she said. "They will always test organs. Don't rule yourself out. The physicians will make that determination."

Currently 12 schools participate in the 2016 Gift of Life Campus Challenge. Registrants may change the link to support the college or university of their choice. Students continue to collect new registrations until the contest ends at 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 24.

It only takes two minutes and every new donor registration counts, Beverly Butler said. One year, Wayne State won by just 24. "It's fun to win, but really it's about adding people to the registry.

"There is no immediate gratification but the sense of knowing you're doing something good," she continued.

To register to be an organ donor, go to giftoflifemichigan.org/go/wayne.

Tags: Pointer 2016

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