Organ Donation: A Bittersweet Story of a Friendship That Began in the Darkest Hour

It is a huge honor to share this story with our Snap Mom followers.The interview is with one of my favorite aunties, my aunt Mary.- Krystle K 

tj

Mary and her husband Tim lost their 29 year old son TJ (Tim Jr.- pictured above) in 2009 due to a softball accident. It was during a game one night, when he and another softball player collided while trying to catch a fly ball. TJ was hit in the head and was unconscious immediately and remained so until he passed away two days later. He had a severe brain injury, having 3 skull fractures. Because of TJ’s decision to donate his organs, 3 people received life-saving organ transplants and his parents began a life-long friendship with one recipient in particular,who received TJ’s heart and who’s name (funny enough) is Tim.

hospital

What was your initial feeling/reaction about the fact that your son chose organ donation?

I clearly remember where we were standing in my kitchen, when my son, TJ, told me that he is an organ donor. I guess I had known that both my daughter Shana and TJ were organ donors, because I had heard them talking about it, but I had never discussed it with them until that day in the kitchen. I don’t even remember what sparked the conversation, but I remember TJ saying to me, ‘well mom, I am an organ donor’ and I reacted with, ‘ TJ, are you sure you want to be an organ donor?’  I can still see his face, when he kinda smiled and said, ‘mom, if I wouldn’t be here anymore, why shouldn’t someone else have my organs?’  That conversation with him has helped us immensely, in dealing with his death and realizing how blessed we are to have a relationship as friends with 3 of his recipients. We carried out his wishes, and see the wonderful results of his gift. TJ didn’t just respond at the DMV with a ‘yes’ answer when the lady behind the desk asked, ‘do you want to be an organ donor?’ He had decided before he got there, because he had told me so. That conversation is a big plus in helping us accept all that has happened. 

How did you get in touch with your son’s recipients and what was the journey like?

Lifebanc met with us at the hospital right after our son was pronounced. I can’t say enough, how good they were with us, explaining everything, walking right with us through the whole process. We got a letter from Lifebanc about two months after TJ passed away stating who got the organs. I recall, sitting at the mailbox in my car, tearing open the letter, hoping it would be the one telling us who the recipients were. I called my husband Tim, who was at work, and read it to him. ( TJ passed away June 20th and the next day, when they would harvest the organs would be Father’s Day. In the hospital, Shana had said, ‘I hope a father gets TJ’s heart on Fathers Day.’)  ..and that is exactly what it said, that  ‘a father of 3 got TJ’s heart and both lungs,’ a 52 yr old  man got his liver, one kidney went to a 62 yr old women, and the other to a little boy. My heart just melted with this news, and I wanted to talk to TJ, just tell him all this. All correspondence with any recipients and the organ donor family would need to go through Lifebanc, until both request that they would like to meet. Six months later, we heard from two of the recipients, a Christmas card sent through Lifebanc, one card we received the day before Christmas and one the day after. We couldn’t have had a better gift. Both thanked us for our son’s unselfish gift of life to them. Soon after that we received from Lifebanc, the names and addresses of the two recipients. The man who received TJ’s heart and lungs lived in Michigan and the man who received his liver lived in Ohio, about an hours drive from us, and both wanted to meet us! Later we received a letter from the little boy’s family, who received a kidney, and lived only 20 minutes away! They requested to meet us. To this date, we have not heard from the other kidney recipient.

Meeting the recipients has been such a blessing for us, and helped so much in our healing process.  We met Tim, the heart and lungs recipient first. It was on a sunday afternoon, he and his wife were going to drive in from Michigan and meet us at Panera Bread. Tim and I had already talked with him on the phone, and we had corresponded a lot via email. We could tell by those conversations and emails, that he had a sense of humor, oddly enough, very ‘TJ like’ and we couldn’t wait to meet them. He had sent us pictures of him so we would recognize them, and they had seen a YouTube Video of us and TJ, so that would helpful in knowing who we were. Our meeting was beyond meaningful. I can’t even describe such a meeting with words. They were warm and friendly people, and incredibly thankful for TJ’s gift. [pullquote_left]The moment I cherish the most, is when I asked to feel his heart beat[/pullquote_left] The moment I cherish the most, is when I asked to feel his heart beat, and he allowed me to. I put my hand on his chest, and could feel the ‘thump thump’ of a beating heart. Words can not explain the feeling, of knowing that inside of this man, my son’s heart was still beating. TJ would have been so very proud.

We met the Liver guy (to this day we still call him that, and he doesn’t mind!) and his wife at a restaurant. I was nervous this time too! We had exchanged emails with him and knew some about him, but were anxious to hear their story. He had described themselves so we would recognize them, telling us that he was tall and his wife was small and blonde. I saw her first, standing there waiting, and somehow the look on her face when she looked at me, told me it was them. She grabbed me in a hug I will never forget. It told me of how grateful she was for TJ’s gift. We spent a wonderful time with them that night at the restaurant. Again, it was something to look at him, and know that inside of him was a part of TJ. Wow. The Liver guy and his wife are incredibly warm and friendly people too and we have remained friends and have been to their home. Meeting little Michaels family was very special to too. TJ loved kids and that is what gave it more of an ‘oomph’.  They met us at our house. They came to our door, and the first thing we saw, was a curly redheaded little boy, with a big bouquet of flowers in his hand as big as himself, and before he said or did anything, held those flowers up to me with the biggest smile you ever saw. My heart melted again and again! His parents were wonderful to talk to and their story amazing. Here was a little boy, who was born with kidney failure, and this mom and dad adopted him and carried him through all his hospital stays and all that goes along with a situation like this. I can’t say enough how big they are in my opinion. This little guy is all boy and has unending energy. Again, TJ would love him and be so proud!

 Meeting the recipients has opened a whole new door for us. You see the ‘other side’ of the story, people who need an organ, but know that someone has to die so they can live.
Meeting the recipients has opened a whole new door for us. You see the ‘other side’ of the story, people who need an organ, but know that someone has to die so they can live.That is the bittersweet part to all of this. All of the recipient families have mentioned this and are so very grateful to TJ and have mentioned it often. However, this is life, and death comes with it, and a decision that TJ made, years ago when he first got his drivers license, has made a huge difference in the lives of at least 3 different people that we know personally and that is amazing in itself!

boy fam tim

What was the most remarkable experience in your reactions with Tim?

Meeting Tim and getting to feel his heart beat as I mentioned before was the ultimate. However, there have been many more. Soon after we met them, they came to our church to speak and meet our families and church family. I remember after hearing him talk, and all things I had heard before, but for some reason, hearing it in this setting, with all the people who knew TJ personally and loved him, I was especially hit with ‘missing’ TJ immensely that night. When we were saying goodbye to Tim and Patti afterward, I remember giving Tim a hug and instead of letting go, I put my ear to his chest and I know he understood that I needed to feel close to TJ right then. I told him one time that I need to hear his heart beat with a stethoscope too and planned to borrow one from someone the next time they came for his Dr. appointment in Cleveland.  He beat me to it, by handing me a gift bag, the next time we met. The gift bag had a heart on the outside of it, tissue sticking out of the top, I had no idea what was inside. I couldn’t believe it when I pulled out a stethoscope! He had gone all over the place to ‘find’ one. We were at a restaurant when he gave it to me, along with our daughter Shana and her family,

and we all took turns ‘listening’ to TJ’s heart,
 and we all took turns ‘listening’ to TJ’s heart, even the grandsons! I didn’t care how it looked or what people may have thought. It was wonderful. There are so many more things I could write, but that will have to wait for the book!

What is the funniest thing about Tim having TJ’s organs.

I know why Krystle is asking this question, because she knows there are humorous things that go along with this story. First of all, our sons name was Tim, named after his dad, and we didn’t want 2 Tim’s in the house so we called him TJ. When we first heard from Tim, TJ’s heart and lung recipient, we were amazed at the coincidence that their names were the same,  (they actually have the same initials TLS!)  Their sense of humor incredibly the same, kinda weird and off the wall like.

Soon after we met, Tim and Patti told us how they would never have gone to Taco Bell, because they didn’t care for it. Couple months after transplant, Tim comes home one day and says he had stopped at Taco Bell to grab a bite. Patti says, ‘yeah right you did’ and he said ‘no really, I did. In fact I have been stopping quite frequently! I have a hankering for Taco Bell!’ Patti could not believe it. This all happened before they knew TJ was a regular through the Taco Bell drive through. You know, some people say that you take on, especially the heart recipient, some of the characteristics if the organ donor. Who knows if this is true, but its fun to compare. When ever Patti would see Tim looking at some young beautiful girl, she would say, ‘are you looking again’ and Tim would say, ‘TJ made me do it’ lol.  Tim saw from pictures that TJ always had beautiful girlfriends and now thinks he has an excuse…? smile. TJ was a major sports fan, of any Ohio team. Tim was not into sports at all. But after transplant, being from Michigan, a major rival of Ohio State, people would ask him about it, he would place his hand over his heart and say, ‘I may be from Michigan, but am a Buckeye at heart’ yay!

Tim Saylor (recipient)never had allergies, but now with his new lungs, he has battled them. Yes, TJ had those miserable allergies that came in the spring and in the fall. Sorry about that Tim!

One of the most poignant memories of something that Tim Saylor said, was when he attended his first  TJ Sommers Memorial Softball Tournament which is held every year in his memory as a fund raiser to help others in need, and put on by TJ’s softball team and friends. (This tournament is held at the very fields TJ  and his dad had played for years, and where TJ was fatally injured.)  Tim Saylor was going to throw out the first pitch, and before he did he spoke to the crowd, and he said  ‘today TJ’s heart and lungs came back home.’  I remember gasping when he said it, thinking how TJ would have loved that. TJ loved to play ball, every spring, he could not wait to get out there and play. It was special for us to hear Tim Saylor say that.

What would you say to a parent who suffers the loss of a child?

[pullquote_right]When you lose a child, you lose a part of you.[/pullquote_right] When you lose a child, you lose a part of you. It is gut wrenching to say the least, the pain, not able to really believe they are actually gone, missing them so bad till you ache. You mourn the life taken from them, the hopes and dreams they had, but not able to accomplish. You feel guilty for being here and they are not. There is no way I would ever want to go through something like this with out my God who literally carried us. All parents will grieve for their child in their own way. All situations are different when you lose a child. Some see their children suffer through sickness and pain, or they were killed by a drunk driver or by some other crime related story. I can’t even wrap my mind around what that must be like. We did not have to grapple with an issue like that. Our son died in a softball accident and although I pleaded to God to spare his life, and I know He could have, but for some reason it was not to be. We had to give him to God.  We knew that accepting the fact that TJ was going to leave us was crucial in us healing too. But, that is a whole chapter in a book too, because healing comes in stages
healing comes in stages
, and so many things are involved in it. It is almost 4 long years since TJ is gone, and there are still moments of  ‘what happened? He really isn’t here?’ and you go on, clinging to memories and the wonderful times you had, and knowing that they are in Heaven, waiting till we all get there too! I would encourage anyone who has lost a child, to reach out to others who have also experienced it and talk and listen and learn from others. You need the beautiful people around you to walk along side of you through something like this.  And to the people who have friends or acquaintances who have lost children, or any loved ones for that matter, you play a large roll in helping them through the pain. Talk to them about the one they lost, share a memory with them about their loved one. Let them know you remember! Its the most wonderful thing when someone tells me something about TJ and that they haven’t forgotten him! Again, I would never want to go through something like this with out my wonderful God.

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We would like to thank Mary for sharing this beautiful story with us.

1 Comment
  1. Tiffany Christner May 17, 2013 at 4:26 pm

    Wow! I remember hearing about this when it happened and praying for the family. The part where she listened to his heart beat is amazing…made me cry for sure. I’m an organ donor also so this made me happy to hear the other side of it all. Can’t imagine and don’t really even want to imagine what it’s like to lose a child at any age. Thankful that they will get to see him again one day. <3