By WENDY HUNDLEY | The Dallas Morning News
It’s been six months since Lauren Huddleston died after a tragic collision with a bicyclist while she was jogging on the Katy Trail.
But her warmth, compassion and, most of all, giving spirit were remembered Sunday by two people she never met but whose lives she had changed forever.
“It’s amazing I’m still here,” said Louis Velasquez at the Southwest Transplant Alliance Celebration of Giving and Living, an annual event that recognizes the impact that organ donors have on countless lives.
“Families want to know that their loved ones have not been forgotten,” said Pam Silvestri, a spokeswoman for the alliance that works to increase organ donation. Nationally, she said, more than 100,000 people are waiting for an organ transplant and 18 people die each day before a donor can be found.
Velasquez, 56, was one of the lucky ones.
He was put on the waiting list for a transplant after chemotherapy failed to eradicate the cancer that was ravaging his liver. On Oct. 4, his wait ended when he received Huddleston’s liver, shortly after her death.
“I’m so grateful to Lauren’s family and to her,” said the Arlington father and grandfather who has been able to return to his job repairing recreational vehicles and trailers.
Another grateful recipient is Aaron Anderson, a 31-year-old single father from Pattonville, in Lamar County, who received one of Huddleston’s kidneys.
When he was 11 years old, Anderson was diagnosed with a kidney condition in which blood wasn’t filtered properly. His condition deteriorated over the years. Four years ago, he was surviving through weekly kidney dialysis treatments.
“It pleased me how much she loved the Lord,” Anderson said of the 28-year-old tax consultant.
Huddleston’s selfless decision benefited more than just two people. An estimated 50 people received her corneas, skin, bones, and other organs and tissues.
Anderson and Velasquez got their chance to say thank you to Huddleston’s family Sunday at the Hilton Anatole. The event drew almost 700 organ recipients and their families and families of donors.
Huddleston’s half-brother, Charles Townsend, talked about his sister’s love of animals, her devotion to her friends and her commitment to mission work.
“She always had a smile for you,” Townsend told the audience. “She loved helping others.”
He said the decision to donate her organs was easier for the family because she had made her wishes known to them.
Townsend said the topic came up a couple of months before Huddleston’s death when her grandmother died of cancer. “Lauren was vocal about organ donation,” said Townsend, who registered as an organ donor four days after his sister’s death.
Her family’s loss was eased by the knowledge that so many people were being helped by Huddleston after her death.
“Donation is such a great way to find purpose and rationality,” Townsend said.