It was Sept. 29, 2020, when Tyler and Kaitlyn Berryhill made one of the most difficult decisions a parent would have to make.
Following a stay at Arkansas Children’s hospital in Little Rock, their 1-year old daughter Piper passed away after battling a condition called Congenital Myasthenia Type 6 (CMS6) – a rare, genetic disease that afflicts fewer than 5,000 people in the United States. CM56 is an inherited disorder that develops around birth that causes muscle weakness and fatigue. A hospital employee approached the couple in a very professional manner and asked if they would be interested in organ donation. And during their darkest hour, the Berryhills made the decision to donate Piper’s organs and let her legacy live on through others. The organ donation gave the gift of life to three other children, and today the couple is grateful to have Piper’s legacy live on through those three individuals who were the recipients of such an incredible gift.
Since 2020, NASCAR Cup Series champion Martin Truex Jr’s MTJ Aviation has flown more than 365 life-saving organ donation flights. While that’s an impressive number in its own right, a new charitable initiative named after Piper Berryhill, called “Piper’s Wings,” is set to take flight in accelerating the opportunities for organ donation. Funding developed through Piper’s Wings, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, will be used for mercy flights to help families that need transportation for their loved ones, along with special missions. As part of the organization’s effort to educate and build awareness of the importance of organ donation, the Piper’s Wings logo appeared on the C-post of Truex’s No. 19 Auto-Owners Insurance Toyota Camry TRD during last Sunday’s Toyota Owners 400 Cup Series race at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway.
“On behalf of everyone at MTJ Aviation, we couldn’t be more excited to announce the formation of a new charity, Piper’s Wings,” said Truex, who won his Cup Series championship in 2017. “In less than three years, we’ve already been able to make a big impact by flying much-needed organs urgently to those who need them. Our entire team at MTJ Aviation are especially grateful to honor Piper Berryhill. Through Piper’s Wings, we not only will have a great opportunity to help those who can’t afford to otherwise benefit from services like we offer, we’re also spreading the message of how important organ donation is. And we can’t think of a better way to kick off April, which is National Donate Life Month.”
Piper's story was featured Sunday evening on NASCAR on FOX Pre-Race show prior to the Bristol Dirt Race and can be seen here FOX Feature. To learn more about Piper's Wings and also donate at the following link Piper's Wings site.
“We are honored to have Piper’s name live on through Piper’s Wings and continue to spread the great work of organ donation and the impact that it has on others,” said Tyler Berryhill, Piper’s father. “It is a logistical wonder how they are able to get this all to work and be able to transport organs to those who desperately need them. Every single hospital staff member lined the hallway to honor Piper as we walked her to her organ surgery – it’s what hospital call an ‘honor walk.’ It was a very powerful moment for our family to see these nurses and doctors who had invested so much time with us during our stay at the hospital, who were there with us. As we were walking, I was thanking them, and a lot of them were crying. We had some of the best nurses and doctors anyone could ask for. Little did we know, but this was in September of 2020 during COVID, and Piper was the first organ donor at the hospital since COVID began, and the staff was grateful when we made the decision to donate.”
While Truex was wheeling his No. 19 Toyota around the track at Richmond last weekend, he and his team hosted Tyler and Kristin Berryhill at the track, along with Dr. David Bruno M.D., of the VCU Hume-Lee Transplant Center, and several collegues of the hospital team who are key members of the transplant program. Through a relationship with MTJ Aviation, VCU is the first call for organ donation flights. The VCU Hume-Lee Transplant Center is one of the busiest transplant programs in the nation, known for superior patient outcomes that are made possible by top-tier transplant physicians and surgeons, dedicated laboratories, and an award-winning nursing staff.
“We are beyond grateful for the amazing work being carried out by Martin Truex Jr., and Piper’s Wings,” said Dr. Bruno, Interim Division Chair for the Division of Transplant Surgery, Department of Surgery at VCU and VCU Health System. “Both are bridging a monumentally important gap in order to increase accessibility to more organs for more patients, making second chances possible.”
Last year, more than 21,000 people were organ donors (14,904 deceased, 6,465 living). There’s a major need for organs nationwide, as some 114,000 people are currently waiting for an organ transplant (heart, liver, lung, kidney, pancreas), and each day 17 people die waiting for a lifesaving organ transplant. Only three in 1,000 deceased individuals die in a way that allows for organ donation, which makes choosing to be an organ donor so critically important. The current waitlist for those in need of a transplant at VCU Medical Center (VCUMC) alone is at 971. In 2022, VCU Health Hume-Lee Transplant Center was able to transplant over 500 organs.