Justine was rather feisty, a tomboy if you will. She had a strong personality, outgoing. She was the child that made everyone laugh all the time with silly antics, the class clown. I don’t think we have many pictures of her that she isn’t making a funny face.
Justine and sister, Sarah, were best buddies. They were together all the time. Folks thought they were twins because they looked so much alike and were stuck together like glue. They were rather wild children. We lived in the country and had many animals. The two little girls were around horses from the time they were tiny. It was common to see them go out to the pasture with a five gallon bucket, put it beside the horse, climb up and take off bareback just as fast as they could get the horse to go. Sarah had a spunky little pony and Justy had a very slow moving older mare.
On March 6th, 1998 when Sara was almost 11 and Justine was almost 9, the girls walked the horses about a quarter of a mile to the end of our road to put them out for the day so they could eat grass, as they did every day. That evening when it was time to bring the horses home Justy tied the lead rope around her waist. A loud truck, unfamiliar to the girls or horses, pulled into the drive behind the girls and spooked the horses. Sarah was able to let go of her horse and let it run home. Justine was not so lucky. She was dragged almost the quarter mile home causing massive head injuries.
She was air-lifted from Dayton to Erlanger Hospital. We were told that with head trauma, the third day is the worst. If she made it past that day she had a chance of survival. Instead, her brain kept swelling and by the third day we knew that she would not survive.
This is when I learned about brain death and what it meant. I was the one to approach the doctors and nurses at Erlanger PICU to talk about organ donation. Tests were run and Tracy from Tennessee Donor Services came to talk to my family. It was pretty hard explaining my decision to everyone in my family, but I made it clear how important it was to me. Another couple days and everyone was in agreement. I had made the decision to be an organ donor for myself many years earlier. I just knew it was what I wanted to do.
It has been ten years since Justine died. It has only been a few years that I have been able to share her story with people. In July, 2007 my husband and I were able to travel to Ohio to meet Shane, Justine’s heart recipient. What a fantastic experience. Shane was 11 years old when he received Justy’s heart. He is now in college and so handsome. He has the same clown-like personality that Justy did. We were able to spend several hours with Shane and his family. I’m sure he thought I would squeeze him to death. There is a twist to Shane’s story. Shane has a twin brother, Alex. When Shane was diagnosed with his heart problem, naturally the doctor tested his brother. Amazingly, Alex received his heart transplant three months to the day after Shane received his. Both boys are doing great.
In December 2007, five of my children and I travelled to Mississippi to meet Yolanda, Justine’s kidney recipient. This was one awesome meeting. We spent many hours with Yolanda and her mother. Yolanda fit right in with my group just like she was part of them. The best sense of humor ever. It is so cool that Yolanda has the same personality as Justine and Shane. The drama queen, the jokester and the one that makes everyone smile. She was in high school and had been on dialysis for four years waiting for her transplant. She is now completing her college work and looking forward to a career in social work, educating people about organ donation.
We have not met the college professor in the Knoxville area who received Justine’s other kidney. Nor do we know anything about the man in east Tennessee who received her liver. What we do know is that if put in the position we were, the same decision would be made. Organ donation is just the right thing to do.
I think of Justine daily, I see her in my other children and grandchildren’s ways. I feel that our family was so blessed to have her for the short, almost nine years that we did. She was such a giving, sharing child. Justine would have chosen to be an organ donor, she was that giving. Talking to people like you is part of my healing. The more I tell Justine’s story, hopefully others are saved by one more decision to be a donor.