Meet: Kathy & Lindsay

“It was Friday the 13th of 2002, and the first anniversary of 9/11 was coming up, and I just kept having this dreaded feeling that Friday the 13th was going to be a really bad day.

I had no idea why, so I went on with my day.  Lindsay came home from school and decided she was going to go work out with her best friend.   About an hour later after she left, the phone rang, and it was her best friend Morgan. She said, “Kathy, Lindsay fainted. You need to get over here right away.” She fainted at the gym on the treadmill.  So, at that time my youngest was 5. I threw her in the car seat. And when I got there–I walked in, and Lindsay was laying there on the ground. 

“Morgan what happened!” I freaked out. Morgan said, “she was fine, and then all of a sudden, she said, she didn’t feel good and then she collapsed.” They called the squad and took her to Riverside hospital.

And when we got there—it was about an hour after we got there–a doctor came out and said, “I’m so very sorry to tell you, but your daughter is gone.”  

Photo by Devon Albeit

I looked at that guy, and I really thought truly he was crazy.  I had just talked to her on the phone over an hour ago, and she was fine! I said I wanted another doctor.  And so they went and got us another doctor. Another hour or so went by and then this Neurosurgeon came out and told us that all the tests showed that Lindsay had no brain activity. 

That she had a brain aneurysm.  I was in totally shock. That within hours, just like that, she was gone.

Once she was declared brain dead, the staff from Life Line of Ohio  came to the hospital to talk to our family, and asked us if Lindsay wanted to be an organ donor.  Well I immediately said, yes.  And her dad looked at me and said, why would you say yes? And I said, because when Lindsay got her drivers license on the way home in the car (I wouldn’t let her drive because it was in Delaware—I was like, you’re not driving me home on the highway) she looked at her drivers license and said, “mom this is the best picture and I’m an organ donor.” And I never thought about it again until a year and half later at that hospital. So yeah, she wanted to be an organ donor.  

Photo by Devon Albeit

The process is very long and drawn out. The next day I left Riverside and I remember sitting outside, because I was waiting for my family to come in from Florida. I remember thinking, 17 years ago I had given birth to Lindsay here.

I kept thinking to myself–I knew my daughters life was going to continue in some way. 

It wasn’t until a month later that we received a letter from Life Line of Ohio telling us that Lindsay’s liver went to a little 2 year old boy in Cincinnati, her right kidney to a 16 year old boy in the Columbus area, and her left kidney & pancreas to a 42 year old father from Southern Ohio. She also was able to give the gift of sight through cornea donation to two women that both had degenerative eye disease, and for the first time were able to see their children.

After I got that letter, I just, I couldn’t believe it.  The first year was a real fog, because it was Lindsay’s senior year of high school.  And I, to this day, am still very close with her friends.  So it was going through all those—you know—like homecoming dresses in the closet. I needed to do something positive.  So, I came to Life Line of Ohio

Photo by Devon Albeit

I was at Life Line of Ohio stuffing envelopes, and there was a woman who was also a donor mom, and I asked, how do you get through the day? She said, being involved and having met her sons kidney recipient. I remember looking at her, and thinking, you met your sons recipient!? I never thought in a million years you could do that. She walked me through the process and I went home that day to write a letter.  Everything is confidential—the letter had to go to Life Line of Ohio. It’s reviewed and then from there makes its way to the family.

I wanted them to know that my daughter had her whole life in front of her. 

That just 6 weeks before she died–we got to go to my brothers wedding in Florida, and she said to me, “Mom you’re going to be my Maid of Honor and I’m going to have three boys.”  {It’s funny she wanted three boys, because all three recipients were boys.  So, she got her wish in a way}. I wanted them to also know that she wanted to be a traveling nurse. And that I would love to know their name, or anything about them, because they’re carrying part of my most precious thing in my life. 

Two weeks later there was a letter in my mailbox.  And the letter was written by the recipients’ wife.  She said for a year her husband had tried to write our family, but saying thank you on a piece of paper was meaningless. There was nothing he could say, and he didn’t want to make us feel worse, so all his letters ended up in the trash.  She said her husband was an insulin dependent diabetic since he was 13 years old, and his brother died at the age of 30 from diabetes.

And they got the call on a Saturday morning—{he had been waiting for 4 years}. He was on dialysis, and was in heart failure.  

They got the call and at first they were in shock, because they were waiting for that phone to ring so often.  At that time they had a 2 year old little boy.  They were screaming excited, but once he put his suitcase in the car, he realized, that the only reason the phone rang, was because someone passed away.  

Another year went by and I got very very involved. I started volunteering and going to the transplant games as a donor family—I started speaking in high schools sharing my story just to raise awareness.   And my big message to kids was to make a decision and share that with their family, because if Lindsay and I didn’t have that two second conversation…I would have said “no.”  That rejuvenated me and got me through the second year. 

Then, I decided to write again.  Again I said, I would love to just know your name.  I would love to meet you. Sure enough 8-10 days later I got a letter. This time it was written by the recipient.  And he told me, that much like his wife said, he always wanted me to know him, but was afraid the pain would be to hard for me, and he didn’t want to bring up bad memories.  He said, he’s totally healthy and happy and that he would love to meet us. So, the whole family and all of Lindsay’s friends met him— Scott.

We’ve spoke together publicly, and it’s the most amazing thing to know that 1 person in such a tragedy and senseless death can make such an impact for so many people.

Photo by Devon Albeit

5 years ago Scott ended up getting sick (not transplant related), but he had a blood clot go to his heart and he died. We went to the funeral. And when we went—I didn’t expect to see what I saw.  His body was laying in the casket and he had Lindsay’s button and his son’s soccer button on.

Their son is 16 now and he had those 8 years with his dad that he would not have had—If it wasn’t for Lindsay. So for me that is what life is all about. Its about giving of yourself when you can.  

I think that’s why they call it “Life Line” –for people that have nothing left. The deepest sorrow of your life.  They are there to pull you back up.  And not just me. These recipients. Oh my gosh. They are just so thankful they got a second chance at life.  It’s almost sometimes that their pain is as awful as my pain. Because they know what we gave up.

Lindsay has been in all of her friends weddings.  Some of her ashes are in lockets and her friends would attach them to their bouquets. So she’s been in 7 weddings. She’s been all around the world with me, and been on many cruises.  It’s pretty special—The bond that she created with her friends. For Lindsay’s birthday we always get together with her friends. And always on her anniversaries. Always. I do believe everything happens for a reason. 

She was always my brown eyed girl and now that’s my ring tone and my signature song. We brought some of her ashes on a cruise and I said, we’ll know when– we will get a sign. And at one point we this band started playing Brown Eye Girl.  And I said its time.  It happens all the time. Every time I go to Miami for moms weekend, it’s the third song to play.  And shiny pennies. The last time I went to Miami, I walked into this place and there was a shiny penny, and I said, “Oh, Lindsay must be here.” Then sure enough five minutes later Brown Eyed Girl came on.  And it’s a college campus. They never play that song.  But, it happens all the time.

I tell people going through this–It will never get better, nor should it. Nor should it. So you just have to learn to deal with it. But the pain is gut wrenching. I just try to tell them, you don’t know right now the gift you have given someone else. But you will know. You will know.”

-Kathy Harrington

~ In Loving Memory ~

Sponsored by Life Line of Ohio

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