Vietnam veteran John Harwood championed organ donation
By TIM STANLEY World Staff Writer
It was do or die for John Harwood.
Grateful that a donor liver had been found, the career Army officer still struggled with the idea that someone else had to die for him to live.
The Vietnam veteran, whose liver was failing fast, "felt remorse thinking that a family had lost a loved one and he was going to benefit," his wife, Billie Harwood, said.
"I think that was a big part of what motivated him afterward to begin speaking and advocating. It was his way of paying back - on behalf of that someone who didn't have the chance to do all he did."
After undergoing that successful transplant in 1993, John Harwood spent the next two decades advocating for organ donation and, as a volunteer, speaking to and counseling transplant patients.
The Tulsa native carried his support for the cause even further, serving the Washington, D.C.-based Transplant Recipients International Organization in many capacities for 10 years, including on its board of directors.
Retired Maj. John D. Harwood, a 1963 graduate of Edison High School who lived most recently in Plano, Texas, died May 14. He was 65.
A memorial service is scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday at Camp Loughridge's Kirkland Chapel in Tulsa.
Harwood, who entered the Army after he graduated from college, was a field artillery officer in Vietnam, where he provided support for helicopter crews.
A few years later, after he'd left the combat zone to become a finance officer, he began experiencing the health problems that plagued him for the rest of his life.
First, it was internal bleeding, which forced Harwood to have two-thirds of his intestines removed.
Then, during a blood transfusion for the surgery, he contracted Hepatitis C, which ultimately destroyed his liver.
The call that a donor organ had been found came not a moment too soon. The portal vein to Harwood's liver had collapsed, and he was unknowingly dying as he drove to the hospital for the transplant.
After the operation, Harwood was able to use his experience to instantly connect - whether he was speaking to groups or talking one-on-one - with organ transplant patients, his wife said.
"He had the ability to give them so much peace of mind," she said. "He was able to say, 'I've had it, and I've been through it.' "
Growing up in Tulsa, Harwood was an Eagle Scout and a member of Troop 1, the area's first Boy Scouts troop.
For the past dozen years, he was managing director of a Tulsa-based family charitable foundation.
Harwood did not waste his second shot at life, taking time to enjoy hockey games and a Colorado vacation home in the shadow of Pike's Peak.
A bout with jaw cancer a few years ago, which required him to have a section of his jaw removed, didn't stop him, either, his wife said.
Harwood is survived by his wife of 35 years, Billie Harwood; three children, Jonathan Harwood, Bobby Jurgens and Chris Jurgens; a brother, Ken Harwood; a sister, Anna H. Strong; and two stepbrothers, Philip Snow and Bill Snow.
Memorial donations may be made to TRIO, 2100 M St. NW, No. 170-353, Washington, DC 20037-1233. Online donation information is available at tulsaworld.com/trioweb