Honoring Those Who Gave: Donor Family Tributes
Roger H. Beaty
In Memory of Roger H. Beaty, Tissue Donor
While we were living in Alaska, my husband Roger H. Beaty died suddenly at the age of 53 in 1998. My children and I chose to donate his tissues.
The support my family received from the Alaska organ procurement organization was unbelievable, and my late husband's heart valve provided a lifesaving procedure to a man in California - bone ligaments have apparently also been used in a number of knee and back surgeries. This act was truly the only sensible thing that came out of an incredible tragedy.
I returned to school in an attempt to carry on with my own life, but my commitment to the goals of organ and tissue donation will always remain foremost in my thoughts and prayers. I am currently a doctoral student at Northern Illinois University.
In memory of Roger H. Beaty, thank you for your gift of compassion, and for educating the public on this invaluable message that all families should consider donation.
In Memory of
August 26, 1953 - July 17, 2001
By Barbara Brandess
July 16 was a beautiful day. The sky was a flawless crystal blue with a light scattering of clouds. Jeff came home early that morning from a business trip. We had breakfast together, then read the Sunday newspaper in the backyard. He spent time alone with our 16-year-old daughter in the afternoon and with our 18-year-old son after dinner, just enjoying themselves. Nothing made Jeff as happy as spending time with his family. After I had cleaned up the kitchen he and I climbed into his prized possession, a new little sports car, and drove over to our favorite ice cream parlor. There was a dazzling orange moon hanging low in the sky over the lake, and we drove around for a little while, enjoying the evening, before heading home.
Less than thirty minutes later, while getting ready for bed, Jeff looked over at me and said he didn't feel well. Could I get him something for a headache? Looking at him, I knew something wasn't right. His eyes were completely filled with blood and he looked confused. I decided to take him to the emergency room, but by the time I walked to his side of the bed to help him downstairs he could no longer hold his head up and his body began slumping to the side. His speech was slurring. Knowing I could not get him into the car unaided, I called 911. They were at our house within 15 minutes, but that night it felt as if it took hours. After hooking Jeff up to an IV and taking his vital signs they rushed him off to the hospital. The three of us followed.
At first the doctors thought he had had a major stroke. They took the C.A.T. scan, which showed his brain was completely filled with blood. No more than two hours had passed since Jeff had looked at me and claimed a headache before he was on the operating table with the medical staff struggling to save his life. By this time they knew he had suffered a cerebral aneurysm which attacked with no warning at all.
After a little more than 90 minutes the doctor came out of surgery. By this time a few more family members had joined us. He gathered us around and simply said, "He isn't going to survive this". We were in shock. He followed, after a short pause, by saying, "I have a question to ask." I didn't even let him get the question out. "Of course we are going to donate Jeff's organs". It made sense. I have never met anyone as sincerely altruistic and giving as my husband.
Jeff didn't die until late the next afternoon. Word about what had happened spread quickly and we had a constant stream of visitors at the hospital to say good-bye. One woman, who stayed all day, answering questions and lending support to our family and friends, was Kate, a representative of Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network. She comforted, explained and helped us get through a grueling day. When it was over she calmly talked us through the donation process, constantly making sure we were comfortable with our decision.
Six weeks later, on Jeff's 47th birthday, I received a letter from Gift of Hope, informing us that the four recipients of Jeff's organs were all doing well. Since then I have corresponded with three of them and have hopes that eventually we may meet. I have also begun speaking, telling Jeff's story, in order to increase awareness of the good that can arise out of a tragedy when donation is possible. The incredible outpouring of love our family receives whenever we are with recipients, any transplant recipients, not those we are connected to; constantly assures us that letting Jeff continue to help others, even in death, was a good thing.
To All Heroes – And a Special "Double Hero"
Kevin Chick (center) with Gift of Hope Family Support Coordinators Kim Anding and Kate Pianetto
Since my involvement with Gift of Hope, I have learned so much about organ donation. When my daughter Lauren became a donor a few years ago, I learned so much about myself. Giving is really what it’s all about in this world.
I’m on Gift of Hope's Donor Family Advisory Council. At our last meeting, something came over me on the way home, and tears filled my eyes. I was thinking about heroes. Beloved wives, husbands, daughters and sons who lost their lives and were able to donate are true heroes.
In my situation, when my daughter Lauren was in the hospital and we were told she “wasn’t going to make it,” I had no decision to make. You see, Lauren made that decision for me. She was 23 years old and signed her license. She’s a self-made hero. She was giving enough to know that if something happened to her, she would help someone else.
Back to our Donor Family Advisory Council meeting, and back to those tears in my eyes on the way home. My tears were for a couple of people on our unique council, including a woman named Gail whose little boy died at age 3 1/2. I know she made the decision to donate. In my eyes, she really, really is next to her son as a hero. I can’t imagine how hard that was for her.
Angelo is another member on our council. Angelo lost his 17-year-old daughter. I know he and his wife made that decision to donate for his beautiful daughter. These people and many others are alongside their sons and daughters as heroes.
I applaud and also shed a tear for these folks. The tears are for their courage. The applause is for their heroism.
In closing, I need to thank my daughter Lauren for making that decision for me. To me, she is a double hero. One, for her ultimate gifts, and two, for letting me off the hook on making that heroic decision.
Thank you, Lauren. I will always love you, and you will always be my special double hero.
In Memory of My Father, Al Garbacz
My Dad was the heart and soul of our family. He would help anyone, any time and not think twice about it. For someone with such a big, strong and beautiful heart, for him to suffer a massive heart attack was just unfair.
My two kids and I called and wished my Dad a Happy Father’s Day that morning. If I knew that was the last time we were going to talk to him, I never would have hung up the phone. Later that afternoon ,my husband frantically woke me up from a nap and said my Dad was going to the hospital because he had a massive heart attack.
The drive there seemed like it took forever. My Mom and brother already were at the hospital. My brother met me outside the ER, and he took me to our Mom. I didn’t want to go into “that room” because I knew the situation wasn’t good. After a few minutes, I had to go see my Dad and see for myself what was going on. My brother and I both went into the trauma room together. From the patient care technicians to the nurses, to the respiratory therapists, to the doctors, they all were trying to do what they do best—help someone. That someone was my Dad.
We returned to “that room” a little while later, and a doctor and nurse came in and said they were sorry but there was nothing else they could do. My Dad’s heart stopped beating and ours were torn apart. None of us could believe it. We were shocked, devastated and lost. You wonder how you go on without your loved one in your life. He was still young at 60 years old.
During my Dad’s services, I felt so proud to be his daughter. We could see the many lives he touched, not only in our family, but through his work. The stories and kind words that his co-workers shared sounded just like my Dad. They described him perfectly. He even taught one of the girls he worked with to say “How are you?” in Polish. That was my Dad! His two closest buddies at work are the greatest guys. They said my Dad was so proud to show off pictures of the grandkids on his new phone when he got to work. Or that he would tell them he had to leave early that day to make it to my son’s baseball game. He cherished his four grandkids.
Being the compassionate and incredible man he was, my Dad also was a donor. I believe it takes special people to be donors, and he was beyond special. A few days after my father’s passing, I explained to my seven-year-old son how extraordinary his Papa was for being a donor. It was kind of difficult to describe the true meaning of that action to a seven-year-old, but I did my best as a mom. He thought about it for a little bit and then asked me, “Why didn’t someone just give Papa a new heart?” I knew then that he had listened and understood everything I had told him. They say “kids say the darndest things,” and that was one of them.
Life is different now and will never be the same. My Dad was a compassionate husband to my remarkable Mom. My Dad was a loving father to my brothers and me. My Dad was the most huggable, funny, soft-hearted and thoughtful Papa to his four adorable grandkids.
After a month or so went by, my Mom received a letter from Gift of Hope. It was a beautiful and touching letter but a difficult one to read. Someone received the gift of sight because of my Dad. What happened to my Dad was tragic, yet, if you can find the strength to say it, you need to be proud of someone who’s a donor. I know I’m proud of my Dad. Even though he’s not here, he continues to help others. Now that’s amazing.
I read on Gift of Hope’s Web site that one donor can help save 25 lives. Even to help save one life is more than words can say. My uncle told me something I will never forget: “When you think of your Dad, smile.” One day I believe that will happen. My Dad will always be my hero, and I will always be Daddy’s little girl.
My Gift Back to My Son:
Jeffrey Allen Gardow
July 1975 - August 2001
I wanted to give something back to my son, who gave the greatest gift of all - the gift of hope. I want to tell you about my son's life. I want others to know about Jeffrey.
Jeff was the kind of person whom you could call on for help whenever something needed to be fixed. He was the kind of person who would shovel his roommate's parents' driveway after a snowstorm. He then would make sure his grandfather's driveway was shoveled, and then he would come to our home and shovel our sidewalk.
He was also known for being very loyal to his friends. He was lucky to have so many friends. And if they needed someone to listen, they always wanted to talk to Jeff. I remember one of his friends telling me what a good listener he was . . . and if he wasn't listening, he sure made you feel like he was!
He was the ultimate big brother. Jeff and his sister and younger brother loved each other so much. I used to enjoy watching all three of them together, making jokes and laughing so loud. It was at times like those that his blue eyes would light up and sparkle.
Jeffrey also had strong political views and could be incredibly stubborn when he believed in something.
Jeff was blessed with his unique way of making you feel special when he smiled at you. In fact, the last time I talked with him before he died, we were laughing about our bad luck. When he was leaving he gave me his special smile, the one that made his eyes sparkle. I hope I never forget those beautiful eyes.
Because of his love of nature, most of things he did were outdoors. He was always riding his motorcycle through the forest preserves, or riding his mountain bike through the trails. He loved camping and hiking; he just loved being outdoors. I once voiced my concern about his safety while riding his motorcycle, and that was the first time he told me if anything did happen to him, he wanted to be an organ donor.
I was very proud of my son and the decisions he made. On his 26th birthday he had renewed his driver's license. When he came home to celebrate his birthday with the family, he expressed his desire to be a donor. He asked his sister and me to sign our names on the back of his license, as witnesses to his wish to be a donor in the event of his death.
My son died suddenly from a cerebral hemorrhage one month after his birthday. He was 26 years old. It happened after he worked out with a friend.
I am happy Jeff made the decision to be an organ donor. His legacy of helping others will live on in the people who received the only thing he had to give - and that was a gift of life.
My husband of 11 years died suddenly in February 2004. Although I was in shock and feeling very overwhelmed, the comforting people at Gift of Hope helped me to realize that through my husband’s death someone could receive life. Keep up the good job! Continue to help people live!
In Memory of Scott Misch
By Patty Sowinski
Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the number of moments that take our breaths away. Think about it. A long life may not be as gratifying to one who hasn't lived it fully than to someone who lived it to its fullest- but was taken too early to enjoy all his potential moments.
On a warm spring evening in May 2002, my love, my soulmate, my boyfriend Scott Misch was involved in a tragic motorcycle accident. Scotty was the most giving person I've ever met, which is why he decided to sign his driver's license. He was an incredible, generous person throughout his entire 24 years on this earth. His heart was so big and he shared it with everyone he loved as often as possible. His braveness is admirable, and his story should inspire everyone to donate.
Scotty, as he was called by most, walked into my life in August of 2000. Even though I had met him briefly once before, we were instantly drawn to each other that day. From that moment on, we were pretty much inseparable. He had a genuine heart and a caring spirit, and we fell very much in love. Within weeks we were living together and planning our future.
Since Scotty was younger than me- and more sensible, if you ask me- we put off our plans of "settling down" for a few years and decided to spend our time doing something we both loved, riding. His Harley was his passion, and his gorgeous smile would stretch from ear to ear every time he took it out.
We decided to live life and have fun while we could, before beginning a family. We were getting to know each other and all that entails- sharing memories and falling more in love every day. We were there for each other, and dealing together with the trials that life had to offer made our bond stronger. As time passed, I learned what it was to be loved by such a great person.
The days following his accident are blurry still, overwhelming and emotional to say the least. The question of organ donation was already answered for his grieving parents. Scotty had signed the back of his driver's license. He probably didn't even think twice about it either, because he was just like that, he'd do anything for anyone. So instead of feeling angst over whether or not to donate, his parents felt a sense of pride that their son was brave and selfless enough to make that decision for them already.
Scotty gave life to five other people; five other families were able to capture more time with their loved one. What we wouldn't give to have some more time with Scotty. I'd give anything. Knowing that because of our loss, others received the immeasurable gift of life, is both painful and comforting at the same time.
It is in his death that he showed his most generous contribution: His gift of life. He gave his love to me unconditionally for the short time we had together. He taught me how to love and be loved, a gift for which I am truly blessed. His memory is all I have left now, and he lives on in my heart and in the hearts of many others.
Since Scotty's death, I have volunteered time with Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network, the wonderful organization that handled his donation. I attended my first Donor Family Advisory Committee meeting last month. It is headed Kate Pianetto, Gift of Hope Family Support Services Supervisor. Kate was with us at the hospital to sensitively guide us through the donation process while we were coping with our loss. I signed up for the council at one of the many Gift of Hope functions held throughout the year. Our goal is to promote organ donation while advising Gift of Hope on its services to families.
Scott is forever in our hearts and minds and is missed everyday by his mother Linda, his father Tim, his brothers Billy and Bobby, and his nieces and nephew Erica, Rebecca and Nicky, along with all his friends and other family members. Life is not the same without Scotty, but we will proudly remember him and his noble decision to be a donor.
We have not heard from Scotty's recipients yet, although we would love to receive some word from them. I would love to tell them that all we want is a brief note or message from them, or an update to let us know that they are doing good. It's not going to take our pain away; that will never happen. But in the midst of all our sadness, knowing that the recipients are living life would be an uplifting catalyst toward our healing.
Ironically, I found a Lifesaver in one of his coat pockets before his memorial service. We passed them out at his wake to remind everyone that he truly was a lifesaver. What an angel on earth he was and still is. I love you babe...forever.
Please sign your driver's license and give someone the chance to live a little longer. It's a selfless act, and an honorable one. Take the time to think of life as a gift and become a potential organ donor, your gift is priceless to all those waiting on transplant lists. Talk to your family about your decision. Life is worth living, and many live on because of Scott. For that, I am profoundly proud.
This is about my wife, Susan Nance, a good human being who cared about other human beings. She died a needless death, but this is not about her death. God put her in my life for 31 years. I watched her do many good things and give good gifts. This is about her last gift and act of charity to people she will never meet or know.
Sue was selfless. It was with much humility, I have to say, that I now try to live my life as she had shown me by example. Sue never did anything for recognition. She did things for others because it made her feel good. There was always something special on her face and in her eyes as she would tell me of her experience helping someone.
On June 5, 2007 I found myself making two decisions I never thought I would have to make. Neither of them came easy. It was only that we had taken the time to talk to each other several times about the “if evers” that I knew her wishes.
When the doctor told me that she was brain dead, I heard myself say, “You may call the time of death.” Though every part of me did not want to say these words, it was my knowledge of her love and trust in me to carry out her wishes that I said those words.
Perhaps due to the circumstances of my wife’s death, I was approached about donation. Because I loved her, she stated her wishes on multiple occasions and just because of who she had been in her life, I could agree with her choice to say yes to donation. She said yes to the organ donation because she loved people!
In Honor of Travis Neel
By Darlene Cross
My son Travis Neel was 11 years old when he passed away this year. My heart broke into a thousand pieces when he died. Travis was my only child and a huge blessing to me - he was the biggest bright spot in my life. He touched so many lives while living, and I hope he did in passing as well.
Travis was born with Cerebral Palsy, as well as many other medical conditions. He fought a hard life to the very end, and he never once complained about the many surgeries he had to endure.
I donated everything I could so that he could give to others. There were many times I've seen other children at the hospitals waiting for -and never receiving - an organ or tissue. I know in my heart that Travis would have wanted to help other children.
Without his smile, life has been endlessly empty for me. Yet knowing that he gave and shared with someone else has helped me through. I will never be the same, but I am left with hope that because of Travis's gift of life, somebody else's child can live on.
Tarrence was born on the west side of Chicago , and I raised him as a single mother. He was the first and the eldest male grandchild, and my only child.
Tarrence was a very good child growing up and did very well in school – from good grades to receiving various awards for science projects. He also loved to draw. Tarrence could look at anything and draw it. I have many pictures that he drew, as well as a large one that I have hung on my wall. He was very trusting, kindhearted, and a jokester, and he looked at everyone as a friend.
Tarrence enjoyed getting together with family, especially during the holidays, because he loved eating. His favorite holiday was Christmas. He was also known for his big, beautiful, bright smile, and the left dimple that showed when he would smile – “A smile which lit up the room,” warm eyes and a slow gentle walk.
His first summer job was at 15 years old with the Village, and a list of jobs followed. He enjoyed working and helping others because it gave him a sense of fulfillment. At 22 years old (June 1999) his namesake and the only child he would have was born, Tarrence, Jr. Tarrence spent countless hours with his son, including attending his kindergarten graduation in June 2005.
The last holiday we would share was dinner, Thanksgiving 2005. We laughed, talked, and took pictures (including a family photo, which would be the last). Tarrence even spent some time that night watching some of Tarrence Jr’s basketball games that we had recorded. He left at 9:30 p.m. that Thanksgiving night, not knowing that would be the last time we would share another day with him alive or stare into his eyes again. We got the call that he had been shot on November 25th around 5:30 p.m. It was “A day never to be forgotten” and he was pronounced brain dead at 11:58 p.m. on November 26, 2005 , at the age of 28. His son, now 8-1/2 years old, will grow up without a father, and only memories.
It’s been two years and has been many days of tears, sadness and struggles Some days are still harder than others to accept that he is gone. It has taken much prayer, trusting God and leaning on family to get to this point. Many days I still shed tears and hurt as though that day was just yesterday, and I still struggle to absorb the idea of his death and all that has happened because even now it still doesn’t seem real. My advice is to be happy, make time for those you love, show them and tell them that you love them because no one knows their hour or day. And most of all, lean on God & his word to get you through it all. Let my memories be a source of strength for you in the days ahead.
In Honor of Nicholas Rogers
I look through the Gift of Hope organization Web site often to constantly be reminded of the gift of life organ donation provides. I do this every time I start to feel sorry for myself when I sit and think of the tragic loss my family suffered through in June 2010. It began the evening of Father’s Day when my 11-year-old son was afflicted with an acute asthma attack. No matter what any of us could do, including paramedics, doctors and nurses, we could not get enough oxygen into his lungs to avoid severe brain damage. We chose to donate Nicholas’ organs because we knew it’s what he would have wanted and what we knew to be right. Although our loss was unimaginable, we all felt great pride and healing knowing we helped the people his organs went to and saving some parents the grief and pain we suffer through. I’m proud to say we are a Donor Family and that my son lives on in others.
On May 18th, at 5 a.m., I got the phone call every parent dreads getting. My daughter was in the ICU on a ventilator. My heart just sank. My husband and I got dressed and rushed to be by her side. When we arrived, our young 24-year-old daughter was in a coma and on a ventilator. She had gotten mixed up with “the wrong crowd.”
After a few days of testing, it was clear she was gone. Gift of Hope came to us on May 20th to inform us that she was a registered organ donor. I was pleased to hear this. I am a nurse tech for the critical care organ transplant unit. I clearly could not save her, but others could be saved. I try to find some comfort in knowing that I could save someone else by fulfilling her wish to be a donor.
The process to make her a donor began on May 21st. All the people we had to talk with were extremely kind and comforting. It took longer than I had expected, but I am thankful for the extra time we had with our daughter Lauren. We were given all the time we wanted to say goodbye in our own way. I had life support taken away that night and a few minutes later – at 11:06 p.m. – she was pronounced dead. We had a short moment with her and let the team go to work to hopefully save 4 others waiting for surgery.
Those 4 transplants took place May 22nd, her father’s birthday. He is so proud of her. Lauren was a loving caring mother of 2 young boys. She has 2 young adult brothers that miss her deeply. Our hearts ache to see her, touch her and hold her again.
It has only been 3 weeks now. I look forward to getting the letters informing us of how the recipients are doing. I am glad some other families have had the weight lifted off their hearts waiting for the right organ to be donated.
My loving son Bryant had just turned 14 one week before his accident. We loved him so dearly and we don't always know God's plan. Although I sit on his twenty-first birthday, which is today, April 5, I feel his life had a purpose because of all of those that he saved and the families his life brought joy to. He was such a determined young man and excelled at all he did. I pray some of this determination presents itself in the lives he saved. I can only send out the love we had for him to others.
In Memory of DeAnne Stille
A woman named Kathy gave birth in 1964 to a daughter in a small town in Illinois. Right away the doctors knew the child was very sick - she was cyanotic, but they didn't know why.
The mother took the child to a larger hospital in St. Louis with doctors that were more knowledgeable. These doctors told her that her daughter had a heart defect called Transposition of the Great Vessels in the Heart. In essence her heart ran backwards.
The baby was given a year to live.
Try to fathom being told your child has 12 months to live. We can only imagine how Kathy must have felt.
The doctors suggested that Kathy take baby DeAnne home. She went to a pediatrician who had been practicing for years and years, and he told Kathy something she would always remember. He said, 'Let DeAnne set her own limits. Let her do as much as she can.' That piece of advice stayed with Kathy, and she passed it on to DeAnne.
DeAnne's first birthday came and went. Then her second . . . and her third and fourth. The doctors were astounded as her birthdays flew by and they decided they couldn't project her life span, which was a good thing, because she kept having birthdays.
She did, however, break her leg once as a child.
In 1978 DeAnne entered high school and four years later began college. This is where I, Todd, came into the picture.
Our first date was on her 18th birthday, and we continued to date all through college. We married in 1987, two months after DeAnne graduated with high honors. This was quite a long journey from when the doctors first gave DeAnne a year to live. At that time in her life DeAnne could do most anything she set her mind to doing. She did not seem to have many physical limitations - at least from the outside.
We lived a pretty average married life, with occasional trips to the emergency room (ER) because her heart would act up in one way or another. In 1995 she went into the hospital with some extremely serious arrhythmias. A pediatric cardiologist had to address this because he was the only person who had experience with this rare defect. They planned on using electro-cardio version, which called for an invasive procedure. Prior to attempting this, her heart converted on its own. That experience finally convinced us that we should look into the possibility of a heart/lung transplant.
In the spring of 1996 DeAnne's name was placed on the heart/lung transplant waiting list. Over the next few years we made several trips to the ER/hospital that became progressively more serious. These episodes culminated in May, 2001, when doctors found a brain abscess. But they said the abscess was not uncommon for a person with her heart condition.
The abscess was removed successfully by a neurosurgeon. However, the shock to her system was like a domino effect. One thing after another went wrong,
including the beginning of kidney failure. Then her cardiologist told us that DeAnne was in the end stage of Isenminger Syndrome.
Despite all her medical problems DeAnne recovered, and she even went back to work full-time. But she had difficulty returning to her prior state of health, which her doctor said was to be expected. DeAnne continued to have bouts of arrhythmias, though instead of her heart being too fast it was slowing down.
The doctors suggested a pacemaker in early 2003. DeAnne and I discussed it and decided not to go that route. Shortly after our decision, she authored a poem on a Web site. The poem is entitled "Plea from a Defective Heart." In her poem she said that she just wanted to be like everyone else, and that was something she would never be able to accomplish. Yet she was an extraordinary individual - the most courageous person I have ever known.
To DeAnne her heart problem was more of an inconvenience than a medical limitation. Hospitalized again in late August her cardiologist came to her and said, 'This is it. There aren't additional drugs that will help. We need to take a more drastic route and put in a pacemaker.' The operation was performed during Labor Day weekend in 2003.
The operation went well, but the trauma to DeAnne's body was just too much. In September DeAnne lost her fight and passed away. I honored her wishes and donated the organs and tissues that were viable.
DeAnne had come full circle - from being a patient in need of an organ transplant to becoming a donor who could help patients waiting for organs and tissues.
I am writing this the night of Thanksgiving 2003 and I am thankful for the people that DeAnne was able to help. I am thankful for the 21 years that she was the most important part of my life, and I am thankful she always will be.
Todd M. Stille
Plea from a Defective Heart
All I want is to be like everyone else.
"You can't!" they say. "Too sick!" they say.
But they do not know.
I want the problems, frustrations, and burdens of life.
Do not protect me, do not shelter me,
do not keep me here in the dark.
Though you fear I may leave soon
you can do nothing to stop it;
and neither can I.
Allow me to be everything I can.
While I am here,
love me, help me,
laugh with me, cry with me.
And when I am gone,
miss me, think of me,
laugh about me, cry about me.
I will be fulfilled.
DeAnne M. Stille
Copyright ©2004 DeAnne M. Stille
In Memory of Our Beautiful Ashley
Ashley was so full of life, and her personality was even bigger. She was stunningly beautiful. Tragically, on September 27, 2013, at the age of 20, her young life ended unexpectedly.
We had always spoken about the gift of giving, and she had in turn unselfishly chosen to be a donor. She made the decision for us. She was so loving and caring. We know that her bright and bubbly personality is living on.
Ashley leaves behind her loving parents and two younger brothers whom she adored. She was a college student with big dreams. Her laughter was so contagious. She left a void in all who knew and loved her. We hope to be in touch with her recipients.
Ashley will be forever loved and missed. But does live on. She is our hero.
The Swart Family: Jeff, Kelly, Jeffrey and Vance
My brother Rick was tragically taken from us this past March. Rick was 48 and full of life. He exercised regularly, and was enjoying a renewed interest in life after recovering from recent emotional setbacks. Rick’s daughter Tanya and the love of his family helped him to achieve this victory.
On the night of Rick’s accident I found comfort in the fact that he had signed up to be an organ donor, and that my parents had already backed his decision and allowed the donation to proceed. I was ready to argue for donation, as I am also a registered donor, but didn't have to because of my brother's foresight and wisdom, as well as my parents’ compassion toward others.
Rick was always - and will probably always be - the smartest person I have ever known. An expert in mathematics and science, Rick's fondest ambition as a young man was to become an astronaut. Even though he never realized that dream, the fact that he saved four other lives through organ donation makes him more of a hero to me than if he had flown on an Apollo mission to the moon.
I only hope that others who read this will realize that when you donate your organs to help others live on, your family will benefit from knowing your unconditional love for your fellow man has helped countless others. I know it helped me.
Please keep up the good work at Gift of Hope so we can all learn to help others during our greatest losses.
My name is Angelo Tomasello. I am a member of the Donor Family Advisory Panel for the Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network. My involvement with Gift of Hope came about quite unexpectedly.
It was actually my 17-year-old daughter Celeste who brought us together. As the saying goes, "to know Celeste was to love Celeste." She was fun and energetic. She exuded a charisma that her friends couldn't resist. She was also just like any other high school senior in that she was looking ahead to college and struggling with whether to go away to school or to stay home. Her social life was always in chaos, as is typical of many teenagers: hating it on the one hand and relishing every minute of it on the other. I have to admit, as her father, I too hated it on the one hand and relished it on the other. I enjoyed the excitement and the meaning she brought to our life, the future she brought to our life. I just didn't know how much I relished the chaos until a terrible event took place that changed joyful chaos into tragedy.
That event came on October 29, 1999. That was the start of a week that would change the life of my family, as well as the lives of other families, forever. Celeste, while out with friends, was involved in an accident. She fell off of the rear of a moving van. No alcohol, no drugs, just teenage foolishness. She ended up with a fractured skull and brain swelling. We had never really discussed organ donation as a family, other than with my wife, that is. My wife was adamant about donating her organs in the event something was to happen to her. My two daughters and I agreed that organ donation was the right thing to do, but we just didn't want to think about it at present.
As the week in intensive care dragged on, things went from bad to better and from better to worse. By the end of that week my daughter was no longer breathing on her own and her brain continued to swell - and we were faced with the sad and unbelievable reality that she wasn't going to survive.
As our hope faded, hope for others came alive. We were told that a person from Gift of Hope wanted to talk to us about organ donation. That's when Kate Pianetto from Gift of Hope entered our lives. She was there to ask us to consider organ donation. Kate was careful in explaining the program to us and how it saved lives. She was both conscious and sensitive of our pain, but still managed to explain things to us. We had always viewed organ donation as benefiting only perhaps one or two people, but we quickly found out that it could benefit as many as 20 people. Admittedly, we were like deer caught in the headlights. We agreed to donate Celeste's tissues and organs.
Upon re-entering my daughter's room and seeing her lay helplessly in her bed with machines connected to her, I wondered if we had done the right thing. As if reading my mind, the attending nurse said something that has stayed with me since that day. She said, "because of your bravery and your decision, there will be a lot of happy people tonight as their pagers go off notifying them of a donor. Their lives will be forever changed." Our bravery? No. It was Celeste's bravery.
Since 9/11 we have heard a lot about heroes. As a member of the Donor Family Advisory Panel, the discussion of heroes is a standing topic at our meetings. You see, whether it is a deceased son, daughter, husband, wife or any loved one whose organs and tissues were donated, we all feel and know in our hearts that they truly are heroes. If heroes are measured by their deeds, then these beautiful people truly are all heroes of the highest order. Through their heroic donations, they have saved thousands of lives. Not only have they saved lives, but they also have made the quality of life better for countless more.
In conclusion, I would give anything to have Celeste back with me, but when I see all of the lives she has touched through her gift I cannot tell you how proud I am of her. The memorials for her are over now and not one of them mentioned her bravery. But there are a handful of people who are very aware of her bravery - her organ recipients - and their lives will never be the same. She truly gave them the "gift of hope." She will always remain my hero and I will always love her.
Jack Allen Young
In 2000, my family and I lost our Baby Jack to SIDS. He was nine weeks old. We were asked if we wanted to donate, and I said "yes." A year later, we got a call telling us that a baby boy in Michigan received Jack's heart valve on our baby's birthday. Not a day goes by that I don't hurt for my little one, but knowing he saved another baby's life makes it somewhat easier.
My daughter Judy became an organ donor when she lost her life due to injuries resulting from a car accident. She was only 14 years old. When it was determined that she was brain dead, I determined that this is what she would have wanted. When she was in 8th grade, she had written an essay about organ donations and how many people wait years for an organ. I knew because of this essay that she would want to help. She was a giving person all her life, and even in death she is helping others.
My daughter Judy is an organ donor. She experienced much in her short life of 14 years. She was proud of her many accomplishments.
She graduated with high honors from junior high school; she was involved in many school activities including Student Council, Yearbook, and Cares in high school; and she enjoyed many sports such as tennis, basketball, cheerleading, dance, softball, and soccer. Art was her passion, which is what she wanted to pursue in college. She had many friends. Everyone she knew loved her and was inspired by her. She would walk into a room and light it up with her smile; her laughter was contagious. When she was in 2nd grade, she became the flag winner for the school with her rabbit picture. In 5th grade, she drew the best Dare Bear picture and won the award, and in 6th grade she won the Library Contest drawing a book cover for her favorite book. She also entered photos online and her work is displayed at picture.com. When she was in 5th grade, she was asked to be a Page for the day in Springfield for our Congressman, and in 6th grade she won a Radio Disney contest to meet JOJO and shop with her.
She truly enjoyed life to the fullest.
In Honor of All Donor Families
To Donor Families of Illinois
I would like to introduce myself to all of you. My name is John J. Lulewicz and I am a donor husband. My wife of 33 years, Barb, died on Dec. 11, 1997 of a ruptured aneurysm in her brain stem. We were able to donate the following organs and tissues, kidneys, liver, heart valves and corneas. I have been a volunteer with the Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network, for the past three years.
I am writing to you as the Donor Family Liaison for the State of Illinois in conjunction with the Transplant Games. I had the opportunity to attend the games in June of 2000. To say the experience was breathtaking would be an understatement. It was an emotional and overwhelming experience to see the quality of life that organ recipients participating in the games exhibited.
I perhaps should mention that the games are held for organ recipients and consist of a number of events, such as track and field, basketball, bowling, golf and swimming just to mention a few. They are all there to celebrate Life and to give thanks to donor families from all over the country for giving them a second chance. The disappointment on my part was to see very few donor families represented from the state of Illinois. I do not know how many of the donor families in Illinois even were aware of the games in the past. In addition to the games themselves, there are many scheduled workshops and events for donor families to help with grieving and to support their decision to support organ donation.
Overall, it was a very worthwhile experience. I am making myself available as a resource to any and all of you as a donor family member. I, along with the National Kidney Foundation of Illinois, (NKFI) and Gift of Hope will be glad to keep you informed regarding future games. I urge all of you to seriously consider attending the games to see the results of your personal decision to be organ donors. Giving the GIFT of LIFE at a time of losing a loved one is one of the most charitable acts that a human being can do.
I look forward to staying in touch with many of you in the months down the road and to provide information on the games and any support materials you might be interested in as donor family members.
John J. Lulewicz
Submitted November 2001
In Honor of Kevin
This morning, a very good friend of mine was pronounced brain dead after a snow mobile accident two days earlier. He was only 37 years old. He just got married four months ago, and now his newlywed bride is a widow. It was a devastating blow to all of his friends and family.
Kevin was the nicest guy any one would ever want to meet. There was not a soul on this earth who could ever say a single bad word about him. The pain we all feel right now is overwhelming.
However, all day long my husband and I kept talking about all of the families out there today who are getting a call telling them to go to the hospital because their prayers were answered... they finally have the organ that they were waiting and praying for and now their loved one will live.
As painful as Kevin's death is, it is so comforting to know that even at his worst, he is doing his best. So many lives were saved today because of Kevin's love, and his love for others has helped ease our pain. It is through his death that he gave life. We love you Kevin, and you will be greatly missed. God bless you and all of the lives you have touched... especially those of the lucky recipients of your greatest gift. You may not have had any children of your own, but you have still given life. WE LOVE YOU KEVIN!
From Shannon Ryan
In Honor of My Father
It was early in March that the nightmare began.
I received a phone call from my frantic little brother; my father had fallen off the roof of the house and an ambulance was taking him to the hospital.
I rushed to the hospital where my mother and two brothers were waiting, and found out that my dad had severe head trauma. He had fallen headfirst onto the concrete patio as he was fixing a small water leak on the roof.
We gathered around him before they took him into surgery and performed a procedure that aimed to release the pressure and stop the bleeding. Eight hours later they brought him out of surgery and placed him in intensive care. The surgery was not a success and they had to try again. The second surgery was no more successful than the first.
I, being the only daughter, was taking all this really hard. There is a special bond between a father and a daughter, and unless you have that relationship it's hard to understand. I was falling to pieces. It was not real to me because the accident was so sudden. After all, I had just talked to my dad a couple of hours before.
I will never forget when the doctor came into the waiting room and told us that my father was brain dead and he was not going to come back to us. I was devastated.
As mad as I was that my father was taken away, there was still no doubt in my mind that we had to donate his organs. I definitely did not want anyone else to have to go through what I just did if they did not have to. My family was in favor. We knew that it was the right thing to do.
I think I was still in make-believe land a year later. I still had not accepted the loss. I was angry at God for taking my dad away and leaving my mom all alone. But my husband helped me through it all, and we started going to church.
I have found God again. I understand that it was my dad's time to go, and as he left the mortal world he left behind parts of his physical being in order to help others live. I am very proud of my dad for that, and I am proud to be the daughter of a stranger's hero. I have realized that I need not say 'good-bye' to my dad, but only to say 'see you later,' for I will be with him in time.
In Memory of Our Son, Anthony
In memory of our son, Anthony, I would like to tell you about him.
Anthony had a troubled time growing up. His father and I took custody of him when he was 10 years old. As he got older he seemed to straighten out his life and he moved back to
Illinois to be closer to the other side of his family. He would call us -- long distance -- sometimes to get recipes or just to say “hi.” In the middle of August, Anthony and his dad saw each other during a trip. Anthony mentioned his plans to come home for a visit. He was looking forward to coming home in October to attend his brother's wedding. He was so excited and said even if he had to walk, he wasn't going to miss it.
Then we received a phone call on a Sunday afternoon and our world changed.
Anthony had been found in full arrest when the ambulance crew reached him. He was revived and the only thing we could do was wait and see what would happen.
During the week that followed, we made numerous phone calls to the hospital, talked with the nursing staff and to the doctors. My husband made trips up north every other day to meet with the physicians. Then we talked and decided what we needed to do for our child and informed everyone that we would donate. We knew that our child was gone and would never smile, talk, or be able to enjoy life.
During that week, we attempted to make sense of the purpose of such a tragedy and spent every waking moment in prayer seeking advice. Then it came, although we were losing him, he could save and give life to others.
We spent the last days at his bedside, continuing to ask for guidance, strength, peace and that we wouldn't have to watch him suffer any more. On that Saturday evening as we were getting ready to leave for the night and attempt to rest, I bent over and kissed him good night and told him to run as fast has he could to the Lord and not to look back. It was time for his rest now.
The following morning we received a call from the hospital. Because days before we had informed them of our wishes to give the gift of life to others, everything was being taken care of.
Throughout those last hours and up until the moment they took him away, we didn't think we would survive the ripping of pain in our hearts. But we know that our son gave life to three other people who have loves we/he saved from a great loss.
I love you Anthony and I have a special place in my heart for the two mothers and the young man who live on through your precious gifts.