On May 12th, 1999, my sons were involved in a car accident in Soddy Daisy, TN, in which they were both severely injured. They were on their way to a high school soccer game when the accident happened.
Until the moment that I received that tragic call, it had been a beautiful spring day – nothing out of the ordinary, BUT since that time, since that CALL, nothing has been simple or ordinary at all.
The boys were airlifted to Erlanger Hospital and the wait began for us. As the evening went, we were given updates on Bryce – he had extensive damage to his right side, breaks, cuts and bruises, a punctured lung – he would need numerous surgeries, but he would survive! We were not given information on Blake’s condition. Later that evening, the doctors informed us that after they had done everything they could, after all tests had been done, Blake was brain dead. We had to face the fact that Blake was not going to survive. Trying to understand what all of this meant at such a tragic, emotional time was almost impossible. “He is only 15!” I wanted to shout. “How can this be?” But to balance out the sorrow and loss of Blake’s death, we had the joy and thankfulness that my other son would pull through.
After our family had time to deal with our emotions, a staff member from Tennessee Donor Services came to talk to us about organ donation. This was not something we as a family had ever discussed, especially when it involved our 15 year-old son, brother, grandson. Blake only had a learner’s permit – he didn’t sign his card! How would we decide what to do?
Well, it only took a few moments for us to realize and know in our hearts that Blake would want us to say, “Yes.” He was loving, generous, fun-loving and full of life. He would not deny another person the chance to have the same. He brought so much joy to our lives when he was living, why would he not want to do the same through his death? We said, “Yes.”
We donated his pancreas, his liver and his kidneys. His donation saved three lives. Looking back now, if I had known what I know now about donation, I would have told them to take whatever they could use…skin grafts to help someone who had suffered burns, ligaments to restore someone’s mobility, and corneas to restore someone’s sight. Since Blake’s death I have realized the need for education about organ and tissue donation and that the difference between saying YES to donation instead of NO could actually mean life or death. It means giving someone (a recipient) a better quality of life. After we said yes to donation, Blake’s organs were placed with recipients in need.
THERE WAS A PHONE RINGING…a call being made to let his recipients know that they may be a match, that they may have a new life ahead – on our end at Erlanger, a time of sorrow – at their end a time of mixed emotions, joy for their loved one and sorrow for ours. After time, we corresponded with two of Blake’s recipients; one even came with his wife for a memorial in 2002 when Blake would have graduated from high school.
My work as a volunteer with Tennessee Donor Services began in the summer of 1999, shortly after the accident. It was my therapy and my way of coping with all of it. The comfort of knowing that there was something miraculous that came from his death made it seem a bit easier to deal with.
Blake’s Gift of Life saved three families from experiencing the grief we experienced and are still dealing with. Years have passed, but some days it seems like only yesterday and other times it seems like forever since I have heard his voice or seen his glowing, mischievous smile. I still can see him in other young men around his age – the way their hair is trimmed under their ball cap, a GAP polo shirt that looks a lot like his favorite, or a young couple going to prom…something he never got to do, or even seeing him when I look at his brother, Bryce, and I realize how different they were, but also how alike. Also, there are those times that I see him in his sister’s actions and his smile in hers. These things keep him alive for me.
Speaking out as a Donor Mom and Volunteer is my tribute to him and to his memory. I have sat down numerous times to write a speech or write “My Story” over the years, my emotions have been calm and direct at times and sometimes uncontrollable, but hopefully somehow I have touched someone and made them think, “What would I do?”
Writing “My Story” made me realize that it is not just my story – it is my son’s story, my daughter’s, my family’s and friends’. It is the story of Blake’s recipients and others that still live because of a family’s decision to say YES. It is the story of those waiting on the list now and also of those that did not survive the wait. I share with you our family’s experience because I believe that the only way people will say YES to organ and tissue donation is through education – knowing the facts, not the myths. If we had not said yes to donation, how could we ask a family to do the same for us if one of us ever needed a transplant? A generation of educating our youth about transplants and organ donation and there may not be a waiting list, possibly no one dying from not receiving a transplant.
I cannot deny that every time I volunteer to talk about Blake, his death, our decision, it is emotional for me. It is not something I ever thought I would have to do, be able to do, or be strong enough to do. I question sometimes why him, why us?? Then I realize that it happens to other families every day… WHY NOT US?? You never know what life has in store, no guarantee of tomorrow. I would just like to ask that you educate yourself about donation, discuss it with your family, find out how they feel, and SHARE your decision with them. Say YES to organ and tissue donation. DONATE LIFE, WHAT A LEGACY TO SHARE!