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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KTVI) – A crowd of more than 1,000 attended a candlelight ceremony Sunday night. Mid America Transplant Services brought together transplant recipients with the families of donors.

FOX 2’s Tom O’Neal was the Master of Ceremonies. He read the names of donors as their pictures were shown on monitors.

East St. Louis musician Gus Thornton entertained the crowd. He said he’s alive because of a heart transplant that came from Anthony Mather, a Wisconsin man. The family of Mather made the 6 hour drive for Sunday’s ceremony.

“I’m playing my music and traveling,” said Thornton. “Life couldn’t be better.”

He hugged the mother of Mather. Rita Mather said her attitudes about organ donations changed dramatically after her son died.

“It just changes your life,” said Rita Mather. She went on to say she considers a part of Thornton to be her son.

Mid America Transplant Services estimated that some 1,500 patients are on a waiting list for an organ donation in the St. Louis area. The nationwide number is 120,000.

“There’s greater awareness but the list keeps growing,” said Merry Smith, Mid America Transplant Services.

Mather’s family believes the grieving process has been easier because of the decision to donate their loved one’s organs.

“For many families it’s the only positive thing,” said Smith. “It’s a special way that their loved one continues to live on in the hearts and lives of other people.”

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