By: Connie Klimek
For Melissa Pace and her late husband Levell “Dino” Pace, IU South Bend is more than just an alma mater: it was their introduction to each other, their wedding reception venue and home to their work families. In honor of April being National Donate Life Month, Levell’s legacy as an organ and tissue donor is honored in the Franklin D. Schurz Library on display all month long.
Melissa, administrative coordinator of financial aid and scholarships, and Levell, former IU police officer, were known as a dynamic duo for their benevolence as active humantartians.
The Paces, both passionate about lending a helping hand, were “set up” by friends within IU South Bend in 1999 and married in 2001. They preferred to stay out of the spotlight – but with magnetizing smiles and contagious laughs, how could they?
“He’d give you the last five dollars out of his wallet. He always made sure an individual got the help they needed,” Melissa said.
In June 2002, Levell faced a life-threatening diagnosis that ran in his family: end-stage renal failure. He was put on dialysis three days a week for six hours each day. In early November of 2002, Levell Pace began taking the necessary measures to become an active candidate to receive a kidney donation and transplant. In December of that year, he would have made it to the organ recipient list as a potential candidate; but, on November 30, 2002, Pace suffered a heart attack and passed away.
At just 29 years old, Melissa Pace was widowed to her late husband Levell, who was only 34 years old at the time of his passing. The young couple had been married 13 months and three days.
Before the couple married or even met, they had hearts on their driver’s licenses to indicate their registration as organ donors.
Following his life of service, Levell Pace donated his bone, skin, tissue and corneas after he passed away. Melissa commented that the Indiana Donor Network’s consideration of her late husband and his body was phenomenally respectful. Levell was able to have an open casket visitation at his funeral, without any physical indication of his donations.
The Pace’s interracial marriage exposed Melissa to medical stigmas within minority communities, regarding fear that an individual’s life may be valued more for their potential organ donations than their own quality of life.
Commenting on medical biases and concerns within minority communities, Melissa Pace shares, “One of my goals and honors for him, to this day, is to be an advocate to break down (racial bias) barriers so that someone else can receive that lifesaving gift,” Melissa said.
Family, faith, and seeing the benefits of organ and tissue donation – giving a recipient a gift of life, sometimes extending a life for 20 years – comforts Melissa through her grief and motivates her as an advocate to save those in her late husband’s position.
Melissa Pace is an active advocate within the Indiana Donor Network. She volunteers for them monthly and sits on the Donor Family Council. Inside Pace’s office at IU South Bend are subtle indicators of her advocacy for organ and tissue donation through the Indiana Donor Network.
“I have the privilege of having a second family. I have my blood family, and then I have my Indiana Donor Network Family,” Melissa said.
Following Pace’s near two-decade-long involvement with Indiana Donor Network, she received a call in early August 2021 inquiring if Levell could be honored at The Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California on News Year’s Day 2022.
Pace was left speechless and overjoyed for her husband’s memory. Pace immediately accepted. She was challenged with keeping this tremendous honor secretive until the Indiana Donor Network announced the heartwarming news publicly, at the end of October.
Next, donors’ families or loved ones send a photograph to the Donate Life Float’s design team. The design team creates an image similar to a “paint by number” piece, made of out seeds and all organic materials. Oranges, cabbages, and beans can be seen as part of the floral graphs as well. All materials are held together by water soluble binding materials. Following Donate Life’s theme of enhancing one’s life, 95 percent of the floats are composted after the parade, to create a cleaner planet.
Donor’s loved ones are involved in the creation of the design team’s portrait. Indiana Donor Network and Donate Life Indiana with Melissa Pace hosted a reception on November 29, 2021 to add the finishing touch to Levell’s portrait: his eyebrows, painted on with coffee grounds.
Indiana Donor Network’s Marti Cooper, community development coordinator, and her husband hosted Levell Pace’s memory, alongside Melissa Pace and her sister. Indiana Donor Network flew the group of four out to Pasadena, California for Rose Parade on News Year’s Day 2022.
The Donate Life Float at the 2022 Rose Parade had 33 floral graph honorees (all organ or tissue donors), 14 riders (all were recipients of organ and tissue donation), and one living kidney donor. Five walkers marched alongside the float, including a 70-year-old woman who received a heart transplant. She chose to walk the entire five-mile parade to signify that she was able to walk the distance because of her gift of life.
Months later, IU South Bend’s Franklin D. Schurz’s Library sent out a message in The Daily Titan soliciting suggestions to showcase in their display. As an active advocate with almost twenty years of experience, Melissa Pace advocated for a showcase in honor of April being National Donate Life Month. Pace anticipated that if accepted, the display would be filled with Donate Life flags, facts, and statistics on organ and tissue donation. Little did she know, IU South Bend was going to honor Dino’s Donation, one more time. Melissa felt overwhelmed by IU South Bend’s support for her husband.
“This is home,” she said. “I am happy and honored to share his story every chance I can get,” Melissa encourages everyone to register as an organ donor.
“Sign up (for organ donation),” she said. “Let the doctor sort it out. Even if you don’t think you can (donate), sign up. If nothing else, you may be able to donate your corneas. I know from experience my husband’s corneas helped two people see.”
Join IU South Bend in commemorating Levell Pace’s legacy as a Titan, former employee and organ and tissue donor all month long on display in the Franklin D. Schurz Library.