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I spent a lot of time last week with a great family and witnessed a tremendous amount of love, strength, and courage. Out of a tragic loss of a 16-year-old young man, a tremendous amount of hope has risen.  In the most trying times of their lives, this great family made the decision to donate all this wonderful young man’s organs.

What a donation it was!  His lungs were pumping at about 60% higher than the capacity acceptable for donation!  His liver and kidneys were in perfect working order and his “tissue” alone will help up to 75 people!  What a gift!  He was 6’5” with an extremely athletic build, I don’t imagine they get many donors like him.  His ACLs and MCLs are going to be perfect for an athlete that tears theirs.  Even if they try, I don’t think they will be able to damage his!

The best part of the donations.  The heart went to a 17-year-old boy.  This heart is amazing! It seems that everyone that coached him into becoming the dominant hockey defender that he was attributed it all to his heart and not to their coaching (being 6’5” didn’t hurt).  Many stories were re-hashed about his unrelenting will to win and never, ever quit.  Opposing coaches were telling stories about how the entire game plan was to shut down this defender.  I have played hockey for years and have NEVER heard of a game plan to shut down a defender!  His heart is evident when you hear these stories but it’s equally evident when a coach told a story of a game he lost.  Down by one goal, he put his team on his back and over and over put pressure on the other team to stop him.  The opposing goalie was having the game of his life. It came down to the last few seconds, they were down by one and he took the puck from end to end and was ready to tie the game, he hit the post and it bounced away.  Game over! This was the biggest game of his year and against the team’s biggest rival.  When the game was over, he was the first to congratulate the other team and coaches.  He did it with a smile and was truly happy for them.  THAT’S WHAT THE RECIPIENT IS GETTING IN THIS HEART!

The courage displayed by this family may have turned into a blessing in disguise for them, it was for me.  In order to donate organs the hospital had to keep the body functioning.  It was hard to imagine keeping the body there for an additional 2 or 3 days and the additional pain and suffering that would bring to the family.  That alone took a magnitude of strength that I don’t know that I would have had.  The car accident changed a life and family in the blink of an eye.In retrospect, why I think it turned into a blessing, this beautiful act of love and strength gave the family and close friends more time to spend with him.  More people were able to say their goodbyes and could come back for more goodbyes.  In tragic situations people want to help and there’s often nothing we can do.  This was different.  Someone was with the young man 24/7 until he was taken to the Operating Room at 2 am on a Wednesday morning.  Others were able to just be there for support.

The journey from the hospital room to the Operating room was something I will never forget.  They call it the “HONOR WALK.” All the available hospital staff lines the hall from the room to the elevator.  Close friends and family can be there as well.  The hospital asked to keep that number under 50.  Sorry, not this time!  It shouldn’t be a problem at 2 am on a Wednesday morning to keep it under 50, but it was.  There were hundreds of friends there in addition to a ton of staff. I don’t know how the hospital was functioning at that point.  I think that may have been why they did it in the wee hours of the morning, but everyone wanted to show their respect for the young man and the brave family, that even in this time of grieving, were thinking of others.  Throughout the week there had to be a thousand people that came by to pay their respects.

This wonderful young man will be missed but thanks to the life-giving donation of his organs a part of him will carry on for a long time.  Don’t be surprised if recipients of these donations suddenly become much better athletes, much more intelligent, more social and maybe even a bit ornery.  I hope the recipients of the donations choose to meet the family who in a time of grieving graciously gave life to others.  They will be better off knowing this wonderful family!

In honor of RML I went to Midwest Transplant and signed up to be an organ donor.  I encourage you to do the same.