Monday, April 28, 2014

April is Donate Life Month | Timmy's Donation Story

graphic via Donate Life
I wish I could have posted this earlier in the month since we are coming down to the tail end of it, but things happen and here it is.

April is National Donate Life Month.  It is a time to raise awareness for the need for organ, eye and tissue donation.  It's a touchy subject and I understand a lot are uncomfortable with the idea giving donations after their lives have ended.  I would like to share with you why I am posting this today and how dear of a subject it is to my family.

My 21-year-old brother Timmy was in a motorcycle accident on April 26, 2008.  He suffered from major head trauma, a severed spinal cord and several broken bones in addition to internal damage in his abdomen and chest.  We were told IF he pulled through, his brain would not function normally again and he would be paralyzed.  He died later that afternoon.

My brother, Timmy
Our family was given the option to donate his eyes and tissues (organs were not viable since he could not be kept alive on machines) and my parents decided it was the best way to let his legacy live on.

My mother was immediately contacted by an associate from LifeNet Health (the local organ donation chapter that arranges the process) and they went through an extensive questionnaire and made sure they understood my family's wishes during the process.  They asked questions about what types of donations they could take.  They specified what type of things each donation was used for.  They questioned if any donations could be used for medical research (we did not authorize this type of donation).  They were informative in explaining to my mom how the process of tissue harvesting was done - I won't go into details here for the sake of the squeamish - but my mother has a medical background and could handle it.  They were very kind to my mom in understanding they were dealing with a family who was in shock and grieving the loss of a loved one and put that fact above any gain they were making from this process.

LifeNet transported the surgeons to the hospital where my brother was and the process was completed and his body was sent to our local funeral home.  Our funeral director (also the man who prepared my brother's body for burial) is a long time friend of my family's.  I used to work for him in a dry cleaning shop and he went to my parent's church for many years.  He was very honest with my parents and said the surgeons who did the harvest were very good surgeons and that often times, complications can occur and it makes it difficult for him to do his job.  He said the entire surgery was perfectly done.

We were able to have an open casket at Timmy's funeral and between his injuries and having the harvesting procedure, I could not tell anything had happened to him.

Timmy, on his last birthday
My brother was a very special guy and over a thousand people attended his viewings and funeral.  We were touched by the showing of his friends, colleagues, elementary school teachers and numerous people we had never met but had been touched by him in some way.

A short while after things settled down, my mother inquired of LifeNet about what type of donations Timmy was able to make and she received this letter in return.

Dear Mrs. C.,

I am writing, as you requested, to provide you with more specific information regarding your beloved son, Timmy’s gifts of tissue donation.  I am pleased to provide you with these results and I hope this information brings a small measure of comfort and healing to you and your family at this very difficult time.

Tendons and ligaments are used as grafts that repair a torn or ruptured ligament. This surgery allows recipients to resume normal activities with little or no pain and with increased range of motion.  Thanks to your son’s donated gifts, ten such grafts were able to be made and distributed to help people at hospitals and clinics in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Kentucky, Connecticut, and Vancouver, British Columbia in Canada.

The gift of bone typically results in the formation of numerous grafts that are used in various surgical procedures including spinal fusion surgeries in the cervical and lumbar areas.   Bone grafts are used commonly in orthopedics to facilitate healing of fractures and rebuilding or remodeling of bone for total hips or knees.  Because of Timmy’s gifts, twenty-nine bone grafts have been prepared and distributed to hospitals and clinics in Illinois, Pennsylvania,. California, Texas, Virginia, Ohio, Massachusetts, Oregon, Tennessee, Nebraska, New Jersey, Iowa, Washington DC, Kentucky, and Vermont.

The fascia lata is used for a number of urological and sports medicine repairs.  Grafts generated from fascia lata may also include oral and maxillofacial repairs, such as sinus augmentation or cranialfacial reconstruction.  One of these grafts was created because of Timmy’s donated gifts and was used in Virginia to help someone in need.

The saphenous vein is a critical implant that is usually used to save a diabetic from losing their leg.  These veins are also, occasionally used in coronary bypass surgery.  There has been one such graft created and distributed for transplant in Ohio.

The pericardium is used in critical brain surgery and is an invaluable repair medium for persons who are facing life threatening brain injury or disease.  Two of these grafts have been distributed to clinics in North Carolina.

A patch graft is taken from the donated heart arteries and is used to reconstruct defective arteries and veins to and from the recipient’s heart.  One graft was distributed for transplant to a hospital in Texas.

As you can see, these numerous gifts have improved the quality of life for many people, touching their lives in remarkable ways.  Once again, we thank you on behalf of those recipients for Timmy’s compassion in thinking of others through these many gifts.

If I can be of assistance to you in any other way, please do not hesitate to call.

Donor Family Advocate

We have now learned that 46 people have received gifts from Timmy's donation.  These were people who were facing the loss of a limb, possible brain damage and blindness.  These are lives changed for the better.  Everyone that knew Timmy, knew that he would go above and beyond to help anyone in need, and he has done it again. 

We were told the recipients of these donations would receive contact info in case they wanted to reach out to my family.  We haven't heard from anyone yet, but time may change that.

If you are registered to be an organ donor, thank you from the bottom of my heart.  If you aren't but are interested or curious about it, I recommend you check out Donate Life or The Organ Donor Foundation for more information to help you make your decision.  To register, all it takes is to mark the Organ Donor box on your DMV license renewal application or visit one of the links above to locate your state's registry page.

If you decide that organ donation isn't the right thing for you, I understand.  Many people will not register for various reasons and I respect your decision.  I just wanted to share the experience my family has had and how much of a blessing it has been to know that my brother's spirit lives on as he continues to help others.

graphic borrowed from Donate Life

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this very long post and considering whether organ donation was right for you.  If you have any questions, I would be happy to answer them as best as I can.  

The post April is Donate Life Month | Timmy's Donation Story first appeared on A Simpler Grace. If you enjoyed this article, please feel free to share it with your friends!


  1. Wow. This actually has me crying... I had a friend pass away in a motorcycle accident several years ago. He and I worked together and I was older than him and I used to give him relationship advice. We talked A LOT about life and love and some of my favorite memories from that job were the shifts I worked with him. Jake.... he was happy and care-free and a really great friend.

    When he was 22 he was driving his bike to a 4-H festival. A man in a car in the oncoming lane had some kind of diabetic attack and veered into Jake's lane, hitting him head on. Even though he was always very safe on his bike and always wore a helmet he died instantly.

    Like your brother, Jake's family chose to donate what they could, including his striking blue eyes. And like your brother, so many people attended the funeral that it was almost overwhelming. I went to both the visitation and the funeral and it was actually pretty amazing so many people that had been touched by him.

    Anyway. I love that you're talking about this. It's so damn important. I'm so sorry for your loss but it's pretty amazing to think that he lives on in others.

    Thank you so much for sharing this.

  2. I am so happy to see more light being shed on this. I registered as an organ donor at the age of 16 when I realized that I can still make all the difference in someone's life even when I'm no longer here. Such a touching story and I am reassured that I did the right thing.

  3. I'm so sorry to hear about your friend, Krysten. It's a tragedy losing life that young, but definitely a blessing to give others a chance at life in his honor.

  4. Thank you so much for coming by to read and leaving your sweet comment! :)

  5. That's awesome that something good could have come from such a tragedy. I can only imagine how difficult that must have been. I had a friend and a brother in law who died around the same age as your brother. It was hard. But it's better knowing that good comes from it all.

  6. You're right, David. It helps knowing that he helped others live. :)