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A son's heart still beats

Casper couple promotes organ donation

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On March 25, 2009, 8-year-old Danny White was struck by a car in upstate New York.

The next day, doctors at the Albany Medical Center told his father and stepmother -- Daniel and Emily White -- their son was brain-dead, she said Monday.

"You just never expect it," she said.

Amid their grief, representatives of the nonprofit Donor Alliance approached them, Emily said. "They tried to explain to us what brain-dead meant."

Although Danny would not survive, his organs could be recovered and transplanted to save the lives of others, the Donor Alliance representatives told them.

Danny had a sweet heart, and organ donation was a way for it to continue beating, Emily said.

"A mother was out there crying for her baby for a heart," she said.

As a result of Danny's donations, other children in New York were able to gain a heart, kidneys, eyes, skin grafts, intestines and lungs, Daniel said.

The doctors were respectful about what they had to do, which helped their decision, he said. "It wasn't just a tragedy."

Even though they still choke up about Danny's death, their decision helped them cope with their grief and heal others, they said.

"It was a way for us to heal from it," Emily said. "He was a blessing in life and death."

The Whites, who now live in Casper, showed their support for the Donor Alliance at a Wyoming Medical Center press conference marking April as Donate Life Month.

Donor Alliance regional consultant Gary Loghry said his organization and the Rocky Mountain Lions Eye Bank work with hospitals and grieving family members to coordinate organ donations in all Wyoming counties except Sweetwater, Lincoln and Uinta.

Wyoming law allows drivers to check a box on their license applications to register themselves as organ donors, which becomes a legal advance directive, Loghry said.

Wyoming ranks as the fourth highest in the nation for registered donors, with 60 percent of license applicants declaring their interest, he said.

But drivers should not make that decision lightly, Loghry said.

"There's a lot of thought that goes into that check," he said. "It's not only a decision that affects you, but your family."

Pete Muller, Wyoming coordinator of the Rocky Mountain Lions Eye Bank, said part of that discussion should include the donor's own medical condition with the understanding that everyone can be a donor.

"Nobody's in too poor of health or too old to be put on the registry," Muller said. "I would hate for someone to rule themselves out."

The Wyoming Medical Center, Loghry added, is among only 30 hospitals in the nation recognized by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for its success in encouraging organ donations and the number of organs harvested.

That says a lot about the generosity of people in central Wyoming, hospital spokeswoman Shauna VanderLinden said.

The Whites have become part of that effort, Emily said. They are registered donors and work with families who have lost loved ones.

The Whites have encountered some resistance from people in the community they've approached about being organ donors, and each family will bear its grief in different ways, Emily said.

"If you can connect with someone on a personal level, it just helps," she said.

And registering to be an organ donor can aid the healing, too, she said.

"A year ago we were so broken," Emily said. "We're Christians, and we know Danny's in heaven waiting for us."

Reach Tom Morton at (307) 266-0592, or at tom.morton@trib.com.

For more information

To learn more or to register as an organ donor, visit www.donatelifewyoming.org.

In Colorado and Wyoming

* 1,984 people are waiting for life-saving organ transplants.

* Of those, 1,304 are waiting for kidneys, the organ most in need.

* 504 are waiting for livers.

* 48 percent of those waiting for transplants are between 50 and 64.

* In 2009, the Donor Alliance recovered organs from 115 donors, and recovered tissue from 894 donors.

In the United States

* 106,490 people are waiting for organ transplants.

* 500,000 lives a year are saved by organ and tissue donation.

* 1.5 million tissue transplants are performed a year.

* 18 people a day die from the lack of available organs.

* One donor can save up to eight lives through organ donation.

* One donor can save and heal more than 100 lives through tissue donation.

* The national transplant waiting list receives a new name every 12 minutes.

Sources: United Network for Organ Sharing; Eye Bank Association of America

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