Slain Son Saves Four Lives — Gives Mother Hope Amid Loss
On July 28, 2018, Stephon Gander Zumwalt, 22, was gunned down at a residence in South Beloit, Ill. At 2 p.m. that day, his mother, Stacie Osburne, received a phone call from one of her cousins informing her that Stephon had been shot. First responders transported him to Javon Bae Hospital Rockton in Rockford, Ill., where doctors made every effort to save his life but pronounced him brain-dead the next day.
When doctors informed Stacie that they had done everything they could for Stephon and that his injuries were irreversible, she asked doctors about the opportunity for organ and tissue donation on Stephon’s behalf. What she didn’t know at the time was that her son had already made that decision easier for her — he was a registered organ and tissue donor.
“I wasn’t surprised to learn he was a registered donor,” Stacie said. “That was his giving nature. When he was pronounced dead, I knew that through donation, my son was going to live on,” said Stacie. “In that moment, I didn’t feel like he died. He might [physically] be gone, but he was going to live on through others.”
By registering his decision to become a donor, Stephon ensured that his family and doctors would fulfill his final wish to offer hope and life to others in need. His selfless offering saved the lives of a 56-year-old man, a 38-year-old man, a 56-year-oldman and a 71-year-old man. He also helped two people regain their sight through the donation of his corneas and will continue saving and enhancing many more lives through his tissue gifts.
Adjusting to life without Stephon has not been easy for Stacie, his siblings Eric, 19, Ricky, 12, Imia, 10, his fiancée and their children. Just two weeks before his death, Stephon and his fiancée had purchased a home where they had hoped to fulfill their dream of raising their children together — a dream tragically cut short for Stephon and his loved ones.
“I wasn’t surprised to learn he was a registered donor. That was his giving nature.”
As the Easter holiday approached, Stephon’s favorite, Stacie acknowledged that it’s “starting to feel harder.” But in those moments, she said, “Knowing that the people who survived because of my son get to continue enjoying their families, their grandkids if they have them, means so much to us. We’re thankful these people will live on.”
Having the support of Gift of Hope staff members “meant the world to her,” Stacie said. Gift of Hope works with its hospital partners to offer the donation opportunity to grieving families and provides them with information, guidance and support before, during and after donation.
“I want to thank the Gift of Hope people who were involved that day,” said Stacie. “I will always have a connection with them. They made me so comfortable and at ease with my son’s death that I think I would have gone a bit crazy if I hadn’t had them explaining things to me. I asked question after question, sometimes repeated the same question, and they always answered patiently. I probably asked a million times, ‘Is there a chance? Is he really gone?’ I was hoping for hope, and there was none, but they gave me hope through helping other people and that helped me so much.”
Stacie and her family are hopeful that one day they will hear Stephon’s heart beat in the chest of the person who received it, or meet the people who can see because of him, or hear someone breathe and talk and walk because of his lungs. “That will give me closure,” Stacie said.
Saying goodbye to Stephon “was heartbreaking,” said Stacie. As doctors transported Stephon to the operating room to recover his organs, she asked Gift of Hope if she could say one last goodbye. “I can’t give enough gratitude to Gift of Hope because they stopped in the hallway and gave me more time with my son,” Stacie said. “I held him and told him how much I loved him and that I’d see him on the other side.”