Written by Nanette Pace, Donor Mom
Thank you for letting me share CJ’s story with you.
Prior to October of 2004, I had no idea what organ donation was about. Never thought about it, spoke about or heard about it. Until of course the day we were faced with it!
Even as a young child, Chris always joked around and loved life. He played softball as a boy and football through his sophomore year in high school. Fast cars, collecting hot wheels, and fishing were his favorite hobbies. He once caught a large bass on a piece of bubble gum that he had grown tired of chewing. His collection of hot wheels is quite impressive, dating back to the late 80’s and early 90’s and still in their original little packages.
Photo: A photo of CJ that sits on my desk
Chris died from injuries he sustained when his car collided with a tree on the morning of Oct. 15, 2004. Chris was 17 and a senior in high school when he lost his fight for life. He dreamed of being a firefighter and joining the United States Air Force after graduation. He was active in FFA, Hunter Safety, automotive and wood-working as a senior.
While in the ICU with Chris, I searched for hope and held to any chance that he would survive his devastating injuries. However, after 3 days the reality that he would not recover became clear and we knew in our hearts that Chris would want to help others in any way he could. Saving lives is what he dreamed of doing in his future as a firefighter and it only made sense to us that if he could not do that during his life that we would fulfill his wishes in his death. That decision set in motion a 24-hour process that was both tragic and uplifting – a process filled with incredible pain and yet a glimmer of peace and hope.
Chris donated his kidneys, so that two people would not have to live on dialysis any longer. His liver so that a wonderful father could continue to live his life to the fullest and watch his children grow. His heart valves so that someone could have a second chance at their heart working properly. And his eyes so that someone might see the world as he did, beautiful and full of possibility.
Photo: Another photo of Chris that sits on my desk
In April of 2008, we had the honor of meeting Chris’s liver recipient. He is a wonderful, loving man with a great love of life. He told me when we finally met that he had been ready to meet me as soon as he opened his eyes from transplant. We shared many stories during that day, one of them almost unbelievable. He said that after his transplant he craved Cheetos. I laughed and cried all at the same time, because this was Chris’s favorite snack! I felt very comforted knowing that life had truly come full circle and I knew in my heart that Chris was indeed a part of him and what a wonderful decision we made that day.
It has been 10 years now and it’s hard to believe we have been without him for that long…it seems like just yesterday I held him in my arms, watched him take his first steps, and grow into a wonderful young man! Chris’ love of life and the need to make others smile is my inspiration to tell talk about donation and educate in our community and to help other families as they begin their own journey of grief. Chris taught me throughout our journey that I CAN find my smile again and it’s ok! That through our tears we heal and are able to move forward. The legacy that Chris left behind has given us comfort in knowing that part of him and his memory will live on.
Photo: Me, my daughter Ananda, and Bryan a kidney recipient who rode in honor of CJ at the Lone Star Circle of Life Bike Tour 2009
Looking for more stories like this?
Read stories from other Donor Moms: "A Mother's Journey Through Grief" and "Taylor is a Beautiful Candidate for Organ Donation"