Auburn, NY -- Every day, Theresa Denson thinks about the sledding accident that claimed the life of her 12-year-old daughter in January 2009 at the Westcott Reservoir in Geddes. And every day, she thinks about her decision to donate Taylor's organs.
"She loved to help other people," Denson said. "It helps to know that a part of her is still alive out there, somewhere. She helped somebody. She helped a lot of people."
So did Kihary Blue. Parents of the 19-year-old Syracuse shooting victim decided to donate his organs. His funeral is today.
His father, Otis Blue said they never spoke about organ donation but he is "quite sure" this is what Kihary would have wanted. "We are holding up the best that we can. We're all still in shock," Blue said of grieving family and friends. "It helps a lot, knowing that he's able to live on through someone else."
Kihary's uncle, Rudy Blue said donating Kihary's organs and tissues was "the right thing to do, to have someone else go on. "He was a young, strong and vibrant person with strong organs. You can't let that go to waste."
Details about how the recipients are doing are not yet available. The Finger Lakes Donor Recovery Network compiles that information and shares general updates with donor families. "A lot of times, donor families want to know how recipients are doing," said Karla Hatley, a family services coordinator for the network. Sometimes, she said, donor families and recipients even choose to meet.
Hospitals are required by federal law to notify the transplant agency in their region of every death or imminent death. "The law is in place that way, so there's no missed opportunity," said Rob Kochik, the network's executive director. Someone from the network goes to the hospital and makes sure organ transplant could be an option before the idea is presented to the family.
Old age is not an automatic disqualifier, and neither is cancer. It used to be, but now so many people survive cancer and go on to live healthy lives. Each person is evaluated individually, Kochik said, and their current condition and past medical and social history matter, along with testing for diseases such as hepatitis and human immunodeficiency virus.
"We often talk with families, and they may very well be interested in donation and give us permission," he said. "But then later on, we find out that the patient is not medically suitable."
There are two types of death. Circulatory death occurs when the heart stops beating. Brain death occurs when the brain stops functioning, which may happen hours or days before circulatory death. Even though the brain is dead, other organs continue to be nourished by the body's blood supply -- and can be surgically removed for transplant into other people, if the person or their surviving family members agree.
Denson, of Auburn, had no hesitation when a network representative asked about organ donation.
Denson worked at the state fair in August 2009, and during a lunch break, she stopped for a free pen at the Central New York Eye and Tissue Bank booth. She brought it home, and her daughter, Taylor, asked her why there was an eyeball on the pen. The mother explained how organs can be removed from people who die and transplanted into people who are sick, to help make them better.
"She just thought that was the coolest thing in the world," Denson said. "That's the first thing I thought about when they asked if I would want to donate her organs." Taylor, a student at East Middle School, suffered severe brain injuries on the afternoon of Jan. 10, 2009 while tubing with a friend at the Westcott Reservoir. According to police at the time, she slid headfirst into a parked car and suffered massive head trauma. She died the following Tuesday at University Hospital.
Denson said everything except Taylor's kidneys were donated. Doctors used so much medication trying to save her life that her kidneys were starting to fail, she said. Denson has not met or spoken with any recipients of her daughter's organs but she has received updates through the donor network.
The 13-year-old girl from Virginia who received Taylor's lungs is doing great, Denson said. "She was a ballerina, and they told her she could never dance again due to primary pulmonary hypertension." Then she received the lung transplant, "and she's back to her regular activities, dancing again."
Denson said a man from somewhere in the Midwest received her daughter's pancreas in a transplant in New York City. She is not sure what was wrong with his pancreas, "but he has children and he was unable to work. Since the transplant, he's back to work and is able to provide for his family again."
Taylor's liver went to a 67-year-old woman in New York City, and her heart to a 61-year-old woman in Canada, since there wasn't a compatible match in this region. A girl in California got one of Taylor's corneas.
Knowing all of that helps Denson cope. And she imagines that will be the case with the Blue family.
Blue was shot Nov. 26 while riding in a car on Interstate 81, a case, Syracuse Police Chief Frank Fowler said, of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. His family made the decision to donate his organs on Dec. 1. Even though relatives don't yet know where Kihary's organs ended up, his father said they are proud that "his life is still going."