When Jake Carney was killed in an accident, his parents had to make a choice about whether to donate his organs.
Today, they’re glad they did — and so are DuPage County officials who decided to pay it forward.
“It’s such a wonderful thing to know your loved one lives on,” Carney’s mother, Ellen Carney of Winfield, recently told the county board.
Last month, more than 120 county workers and elected leaders signed up for organ and tissue donation in honor of Jake Carney, an athletic and well-liked 17-year-old who died after a November 2010 car crash.
With the blessing of his family, the West Chicago Community High School senior’s liver, kidneys and pancreas went to two people awaiting lifesaving transplants.
“Jake’s legacy is that he saved two lives. There’s not many of us — no matter how hard we work in our daily lives — who can say that,” said Alison Smith, vice president of operations for the Gift of Hope Organ and Tissue Donor Network, which facilitated the campaign with the Donate Life Illinois coalition.
County board member Michael McMahon said he was “truly touched” when he learned Carney’s story from Ellen Altier, a friend of the teen’s family and supervisor of the county circuit clerk’s appeals division. Together, they worked with county board Chairman Dan Cronin to organize a drive that would memorialize Carney annually.
The project won unanimous approval from the full board in December. McMahon said he was among the first to get educated and sign up.
“I don’t know why I had this paranoia about organ donation. It was kind of naive,” he said. “It can have such a huge impact on so many people’s lives.”
Gift of Hope says more than 112,000 people in the United States are awaiting organ transplants and thousands more will need tissue transplants at some point during their lives.
Signing up takes only seconds and companywide drives are easy to launch at DonateLifeWorkplace.org, according to Joshua Muller of Gift of Hope.
“It’s really a quick and easy turnkey program,” Muller said.
For Carney’s loved ones, donating the teen’s organs brought comfort during difficult times.
“It brings our family peace every holiday we have to endure and celebrate without Jake,” his mother said. “We know that another family is enjoying that holiday and it brings us solace knowing that he lives on and through the Gift of Hope.”
Carney lost control of his car and struck the back end of a truck pulling out of a residential driveway, according to police. He was returning from visiting his girlfriend, Altier said, when the accident happened on Garys Mill Road in West Chicago.
Carney was a talented skateboarder and best friend to his younger brother, Ben, Altier said. She also remembers him as creative and gifted at working with his hands.
He was so well-liked, she said, that Central DuPage Hospital was crowded with classmates and friends the last night of his life.
“They weren’t leaving until he left,” Altier said.
Altier was already a registered organ and tissue donor but said she was nonetheless “inspired” by the Carney family to enlist others.
“It’s just such a good cause and it’s such a heroic thing,” she said. “I wanted to pass that along and have people follow in their example. I wanted their heroic acts to be remembered in honor of Jake.”
McMahon said county employees and officials will be reminded and encouraged to register each Nov. 14, the anniversary of Carney’s death. The goal is to register 500 people.
“It’s real simple, it takes about a minute, and it’s a decision that can affect so many lives in a positive way,” McMahon said.
For more information, visit www.GiftOfHope.org or www.DonateLifeIllinois.org.
“You Have the Power to Donate Life – to become an organ and tissue donor Sign-up today!
Tell Your Loved Ones of Your Decision”
Tell Your Loved Ones of Your Decision”
Australia, register at Australian Organ Donor Register
New Zealand, register at Organ Donation New Zealand
South Africa, http://www.odf.org.za/
United States, donatelife.net
United Kingdom, register at NHS Organ Donor Register
Your generosity can save or enhance the lives of up to fifty people with heart, kidneys, liver, lungs, pancreas and small intestine transplants (see allotransplantation). One tissue donor can help by donating skin, corneas, bone, tendon, ligaments and heart valves
Has your life been saved by an organ transplant? "Pay it forward" and help spread the word about the need for organ donation - In the U.S. another person is added to the national transplant waiting list every 11 minutes and 18 people die each day waiting for an organ or tissue transplant. Organs can save lives, corneas renew vision, and tissue may help to restore someone's ability to walk, run or move freely without pain. Life Begins with You.