"Gift of Life"

By Jami Brinton, Reporter

IOWA CITY - Lisa Darling 14, of Humboldt, Iowa told her dad en route to getting her driver’s permit October 2008 that she wanted to be an organ donor. Five months later, she became one. "She was always trying to help people,” said her father Greg Darling.

Lisa’s life, and death, centered on giving to others. She loved her family and her friends, and they loved her. To remember Lisa, the Darling’s home is dotted with her favorite color: green. Ironically, that color represents organ donation awareness.

March 19, 2009 will always be a dark day for the Darlings. On Lisa’s way home from school, the unthinkable happened. "Giggling, laughing, all of the sudden she went down on the ground,” explained Greg. A rare brain bleed left Lisa lifeless. Doctors determined she would not survive without life support. The medical staff asked her family if they wanted to donate her organs.

"At the time you're just kind of numb,” remembered Sandi, Lisa’s mother. “(You) don't have time to think about it. You just kind of do what you have to do. We didn't have to even consider five minutes. That was the best thing for her to donate.”

That same night, a few miles away, in Woodward, Iowa, April Gross, 39, struggled to breathe. "I knew things were getting dire,” said Gross. “I just couldn't wait to get that phone call telling me that lungs were on the way.” April suffered from lung disease. The effects of a life long battle with cystic fibrosis that was about to kill her. "I don't know how much time I had left, but I don't think it was much,” said Gross. “Getting that phone call…was such a gift.” Just three days earlier, April added herself to the transplant waiting list. Doctors at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics replaced both of her worn out lungs with new lungs - Lisa's lungs.

"Whenever I do a lung transplant it probably gives me the most satisfaction that this operation is going to save someone's life and make a big difference in the quality of life,” said Dr. Kalpaj Parekh, a cardiothoracic surgeon at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.

Breathing easier, April is now training to run a half-marathon. When she runs, she thinks about Lisa and the life she's given her. "I thank her every day,” said Gross. “I think of her every day. It's because of what she gave that I am here today.” Ironically, Lisa’s parents say she didn’t like to run.

"She would do it to participate and everything else,” explained Greg. “Now Aprils' fulfilling that - so she's probably listening to us and saying see? I can run a marathon now.”

When April crosses the finish line in June, her thoughts will be on Lisa.

"When I'm thinking I really feel like stopping, I think no, I can't stop,” said Gross. “This is for my donor. She deserves it that I push as hard as I can to be in the best physical shape that I can be in.”

Though the pain of losing their little girl still weighs heavy on their hearts, the Darlings are focusing on the positive. "It's just good to know that she lives on in others,” said Sandi.