UK Hospital starts honor walks, prompted by Marco Shemwell's organ donation

Marco Shemwell's Honor Walk
Marco Shemwell's Honor Walk(WKYT)
Published: Apr. 17, 2019 at 5:40 PM EDT
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A Kentucky child who was killed as a pedestrian outside Kroger Field in 2018 has inspired hospital workers to start a tradition thanking organ donors.

Videos and pictures of honor walks have gone viral online. Honor walks are a "thank you" to organ donors as they are escorted for the last time from the intensive care unit to the operating room.

"The families brought this idea to us and said, 'We've seen this. Can we have this for our family member too?'" Chief Trauma Surgeon Andrew Bernard said.

Bernard started a committee of doctors and staff to streamline the process of an honor walk.

"Now we'll be offering these to families, and families will decide if it's right for them," Bernard said. "This won't be right for everybody. Some families will want it and some families don't want an honor walk."

Typically, the honor walk involves hospital staff, friends and family lining the halls of the hospital and silently saying goodbye to the donor as the bed passes. Bernard told WKYT Investigates that these events are highly emotional for not just the families, but also the staff.

"It's tough. When you're a caregiver taking care of a patient who is dying, it's very impactful on the caregiver and the family but some staff, as much as you would want to participate, would struggle with it."

Before there was a committee and protocol for honor walks at UK, an impromptu one would end up being the hospital's first. In September 2018, a tragic accident outside of a Kentucky football game took the life of 4-year-old Marco Shemwell. The driver, 18-year-old Jacob Heil, is charged with reckless homicide in the case, as police say he was driving under the influence.

Shemwell's parents, Ben and Liz, had a very short time to decide if they wanted to donate his organs. It was a decision they never wanted to face.

"I remember Liz asked me, 'What do you think?' I just remember telling her, right now, as the boy's father, respect for him and the family, I just don't know if I can sit here and continue to watch him suffer," Ben Shemwell said.

The Shemwells did something no parent would even dare think about. They gave the 'OK' to donate Marco's organs.

They had no idea when they opened the hospital room door to walk Marco to the operating room, hundreds would line the hall to honor him and his parents' decision.

"It was such an overwhelming display of love and support for us and the sacrifice that we were getting ready to make," Liz Shemwell said.

Marco's sacrifice continues to ripple through the community. A foundation has formed at

to bring hope and comfort to strangers, just as Marco did.

The University of Kentucky Medical Center has now held two honor walks and are making it an option for donor families.

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