Maddie’s Gift

Maddie’s Gift

In a time of tragedy, Maddie’s legacy lives on as an eye and tissue donor.

Jim Allmon shares how his stepdaughter’s legacy lives on through eye and tissue donation.

My story or should I say “Our Story” is one that I refuse to let define my family. It is unique and, unfortunately, tragically ironic. On Friday May 5,  2017 there was a prom crash reenactment at the New Berlin High School. I have done several dozen of these reenactments at local high schools in Sangamon County throughout my 16 year career at the Coroner’s Office. I am the Chief Deputy Coroner for the County and it is one of my responsibilities to speak to a lot of the high school kids prior to them attending their prom. We speak about the dangers of distractive driving, drinking and driving and making good decisions the night of their prom. Maddie was a junior at New Berlin High School and witnessed our crash reenactment. Once the crash reenactment is over, all of the students go into the school gym and listen to me speak for a short time about my job. They heard how hard it is for me to talk to the parents of kids lost in car wrecks and how most of them could have been avoided. I remember Maddie raising her hand and asking me a question while we were in the gym and I remember calling Maddie’s name and telling the whole school she was my daughter and I answered her silly question. I left that day thinking that the program went well and that we maybe got our message through to the kids.

On May 6, 2017 Maddie went to her junior prom and then to her after prom at the high school gym. Maddie was a straight A student and a cheerleader. She was popular with the kids and really knew how to light up a room. On May 7, 2017 I was on call and I remember being woke up to the familiar sound of my work cell phone ringing. It was about 8am and it was a beautiful Sunday morning. I answered the phone and I heard the familiar voice of my friend and dispatcher telling me that there had been motor vehicle crash not far from my house. I got up like I always do and got ready to go to the call. It must have only been a few minutes that it took me to get ready. I told my wife that I had a call and I had to go. I told her it was a car wreck and as always, she told me to be careful and she would see me in a little while. I got dressed and headed out the door. As I was walking to my car I heard a scream come from inside my house.  I remember running back up my driveway toward the house and my wife came running towards me. She tossed the phone to me and said “Jimmy, NO”. It was the Illinois State Police and they had went to the residence where Maddie’s car was registered (her dad’s house) and had told Courtney (my wife) that Maddie had been in a bad wreck. I remember taking the phone and asking the State Trooper if it was our Maddie. They said that it was her and she had appeared to have fallen asleep, crossed the center line and hit a semi-truck head on. Maddie had left after-prom when it was over and dropped one of her friends off. Maddie did everything right that night. She was not drinking, she was not on any drugs and she was not on her phone. Maddie had been up for about 30 hours straight and simply fell asleep.

There has not been one single day that goes by since that day that I have not thought about that morning at least several times. Shortly after hearing about the wreck, my wife and I were sitting in our bedroom with our girls trying to figure out how to absorb this unimaginable thing. As I sat there I thought, how can I make this better… I thought that there is no way I can fix this. Then I thought that maybe there is a way, that there could be something good come from this horrific thing. I started making calls and reached out to Saving Sight and Gift of Hope. I remember hoping that there was still some time for Maddie to able to donate. The process went very smoothly – everyone I talked to seemed very passionate about their job and cognizant of what we were going through. I remember telling my wife that I was extremely happy to be able to make a decision for Maddie that she would have wanted me to make. Shortly after Maddie’s funeral we received a letter from Saving Sight that told us two different people now have the gift of sight because of Maddie. One of the recipients was a 5 year old girl. That letter has become part of Maddie’s story. Maddie’s gift will also touch approximately 67 lives as a tissue donor as well.

Continuing Maddie’s Legacy

We decided to give back to our wonderful community after everyone did so much for us. Our community carried us through that year of firsts and really helped us get where we are today. We had a Golf Outing to raise money for scholarships to be given to a New Berlin High School Senior once a year for the next 5 years. Maddie would have been a senior this year and was on track to graduate with honors. We were able to raise enough money to give away $9,000 in scholarships this year and give away $1,000 a year for the next 5 years to a New Berlin Senior Cheerleader. Thanks to several sponsors (including Saving Sight) we were able to have a great outing that raised a lot of money for these kids.

Left photo: Courtney Allmon; Erica Roberts, Donation Liaison at Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network and Deputy Coroner at Sangamon County Coroner’s Office; Jim Allmon. Right photo: Erica Roberts and Jim Allmon with Maddie’s sisters, Gabby Allmon, Abby Finch, and Isabelle Allmon.

Our Sister Vicki

Our Sister Vicki

Vicki’s loving and caring legacy lives on as an eye donor.

Vicki was a loving and caring person who always wished to help others. She loved the outdoors, decorating and design, and reading in her Bible. Most of all, she loved her family and was a proud mother of 3 children, grandmother to 13 and great-grandmother to 9.

For the past ten years, Vicki had been in ill health and, while under hospice care, she made her wishes known she would like to donate her corneas. “As Vicki’s sister, I lost my sight in my right eye after cataract surgery so we hope that Vicki’s gift will help someone else see,” says Cricket, whose given name is Barbara but her little sister Vicki always lovingly called her Cricket. Vicki and Cricket had discussed organ donation, but knew with her health she’d likely be an eye and tissue donor.

“We discussed Saving Sight with hospice and were pleased that she could give sight to others,” says Cricket. “The Saving Sight technician who recovered her corneas was very caring and gentle and so very understanding.”

Just knowing Vicki’s donation will give someone else sight is meaningful to Cricket and the rest of their family. They know her legacy will live on and they will always remember her big, beautiful brown eyes that all of her children and grandchildren inherited.

“Vicki was a minister’s wife and always cared for others,” says Cricket. “She, at times, had little to give but always gave to others what she could so this is her last gift that the Lord let her share.”

You can learn more about joining the organ, eye and tissue donor registry at registerme.org

A Grandmother’s Legacy Shines on Through the Gift of Sight

A Grandmother’s Legacy Shines on Through the Gift of Sight

“It gives me pleasure and comfort that a piece of her is still on this earth,” said Garrett about his mother giving the gift of sight.”

Throughout her life, Janice touched those around her with her sweet and caring nature. “My mother, Janice, was a very sweet and kind woman. She was a single mother who raised me and also enjoyed spending time with her grandson, Alijah as well. My son misses his grandmother every day,” said Garrett. Janice retired from Hallmark in Kansas City after a 35-year career as a secretary. In her retirement, she enjoyed planting flowers, knitting, doing online jigsaw puzzles, traveling and listening to music. Her most treasured moments were those spent with her son and grandson.

With Janice’s caring and giving nature, her family’s decision to say yes to eye, organ and tissue donation upon her passing in November of 2015 was a natural one. “Since my mom was such a caring woman, she would’ve wanted it that way,” said Garrett.

Garrett recently received an anonymous letter through Saving Sight’s correspondence program thanking him for granting consent for his mother to give the gift of sight. Learning his mother’s recipient was also a mother and grandmother who enjoyed many of the same things brings Garrett peace. “This person can now see with my mother’s eyes,” said Garrett. “It gives me pleasure and comfort that a piece of her is still on this earth.”

Because the legacy his mother left in giving the gift of sight has helped comfort Garrett and his family, he encourages others to consider saying yes to eye, organ and tissue donation. “Please consider doing it because even though a loved one is gone, you are still giving another person hope to live a better life,” said Garrett.

 

You can join the millions of Americans like Janice who gave the gift of sight through eye donation by signing up for the donor registry at registerme.org. And be sure to share your decision with your family and friends. 

If you are a cornea transplant recipient or donor family and would like to share your experience like Garrett has, please send us a note through our Contact page. To learn more about writing your donor family or your loved one’s recipient, please read our Correspondence page or contact Saving Sight at 800-753-2265.

A Father Continues Helping Others Through the Gift of Sight

A Father Continues Helping Others Through the Gift of Sight

James enjoyed woodworking and watching NASCAR and NHRA drag races. “But above all, he was a man all about his family,” said his daughter Melissa. “He was the type of man that would give you the shirt off his back and do without so others didn’t have to.”

When James passed away suddenly at age 61, his family knew saying yes to eye donation was something he would have wanted. “The opportunity was presented to us just after my dad’s passing,” said Melissa. “Of course any decision in those moments is hard but, for us, it was a case of knowing my dad would have done it in a heartbeat because it was his way of helping someone.”

James’ legacy in helping others lives on through the gift of sight. Two individuals were able to have their sight restored through corneal transplants because he was an eye donor. For Melissa, it brings her comfort knowing her father was able to continue helping others even in death. “I feel like someone is seeing the world through my dad’s eyes and that gives me comfort to know he gave to someone that really needed his help in a way he probably never imagined,” said Melissa.

Melissa has had the opportunity to share about her father with his corneal transplant recipients through Saving Sight’s correspondence program. “I wanted my dad’s recipients to know that they were getting something from a man that had a heart of gold. My dad was an amazing man who worked hard and loved his family beyond belief.”

Because of her family’s experience, Melissa values the impact eye, organ and tissue donation can have not only for donor families, but for recipients as well. “You have the chance to give sight or save someone’s life,” said Melissa. “Nothing’s made me more proud than knowing that, even though he’s gone physically, he saved someone’s sight, and that’s something I will be proud of for the rest of my life!”

 Join the millions of Americans who have signed up for the donor registry by signing up online at registerme.org or at your local Department of Motor Vehicles office. And be sure to share your decision to be an eye, organ and tissue donor with your family and friends. 

Has eye donation touched your life as a donor family or recipient family with Saving Sight? Share your story with us! 

 

Donor Family Finds Comfort through Volunteerism to Honor the Legacy of their Son

Donor Family Finds Comfort through Volunteerism to Honor the Legacy of their Son

Because of donation, Vivian and Larry know that John’s legacy lives on in 37 other people. For Larry and Vivian, volunteering in support of the Donate Life message has brought great healing after their son John gave the gift of life as an eye and tissue donor.

John was a loving and protective big brother to his sister, Eleanor. Just 17 months apart, the siblings shared many friends and interests. They both loved sports and music. “John played the baritone saxophone on an award-winning jazz band in junior high and high school, earning a personal award at a jazz festival in high school,” said Vivian. He was also very involved in scouting, from Tiger Cubs to Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. John also loved politics and was involved in many political organizations, especially when he went to college. “Just 6 weeks before John passed away, he started school to become a massage therapist, which had long been a dream of his,” said Vivian.

John died of an aortic dissecting aneurysm on October 11, 2004, just under four weeks before his 23rdbirthday. “When the ER doctor came in to ‘that’ room to tell us the news that they were unable to revive John, our world collapsed around us,” said Vivian. “At some point, we thought of donation and told the nurse that we wanted John to be a donor. There was no thought, at this point, about what could or could not be donated. We simply wanted him to be a donor.”

Gift of Hope in Illinois called Larry and Vivian at the hospital to explain the donation process. “After this day, the next correspondence we received was from the Lion’s Eye Bank, now Saving Sight. We were told John’s corneas went to two people in Missouri who could now see this world through our son’s beautiful eyes,” said Vivian. “Thus began the feelings of comfort and healing that donation gives to the donor family. Over the next few years, we received the news that John’s other bones and tissues were given to 35 other recipients.”

Because of donation, Vivian and Larry know that John’s legacy lives on in 37 other people. “A man and a woman in Missouri gained sight because of his corneas. The fact that two people see this world through John’s eyes is remarkable,” said Vivian. “A Staff Sergeant in the Army has a rebuilt knee from our son. Beyond those, there are 34 people from New York to California and Florida to Wyoming, who carry a part of our son’s precious gift.”

Larry and Vivian have been very involved as Donate Life volunteers on both the national and local level. Volunteering with Donate Life

As a donor family, Larry and Vivian feel there is no way to overstate how meaningful John’s donation has been to their ability to cope with, and survive, in a world without him. “Add to this, the benefits of being advocates for donation through Saving Sight, IL Secretary of State Jesse White’s office, Gift of Hope and Eversight, and you have our recipe for survival,” said Larry. One of the questions Vivian asked the day he died was ‘How will people know John?’ “This is accomplished by being donor advocates for the above organizations and others. We have been blessed to share John throughout the state of Illinois and to places as far away as Savannah, GA, Denver, CO, Salt Lake City, UT and Pasadena, CA. The measures of comfort and healing we have been blessed with are incredible. It is our saving grace,” said Larry.

Larry and Vivian have been very involved as Donate Life volunteers on the national and local level. Here are a few of their volunteer experiences:

  • Presentations and booths (too numerous) for groups from small health care seminars, nursing students, hospital staff, and professional organizations associated with donation (funeral home directors, coroners, etc).
  • Savannah, GA – Presentation for the American Pyrotechnic Association’s National Conference, 2010
  • Denver, CO – Presentation to Allosource home office staff, 2007 and 2015
  • Denver, CO – Presentation to all 3 shifts at Statline, 2015
  • Salt Lake City, UT – Presentation to Allosource staff, 2007
  • Pasadena, CA – Donate Life Rose Parade Float, Vivian rode the float in 2013, and John is on a Floragraph in 2018
  • Pasadena, CA – We are both members of the DL Rose Parade Float committee, 2013 to present

“We have received such healing through the organizations that have nurtured us and allowed us to tell our story, through their employees who are always there for us, through the recipients and donor families that we have come to know and love around the country, and most importantly, for this important cause which also allows us to include both our daughter and granddaughter in our journey as we honor John.”

In October, Larry and Vivian were able to travel to California to decorate a floragraph that will be carried on the 2018 Donate Life Rose Parade Float with their daughter Eleanor and granddaughter Alina. “We left the majority of the floragraph decorating to Eleanor, who did a fantastic job,” said Vivian. They left part of the floragraph unfinished to bring home to Illinois to have friends and family help complete it at a special event.

This November, Larry and Vivian held a beautiful celebration at the United Community Bank in Sherman to finish decorating John’s floragraph. The intent of the event was not only to finish John’s floragraph, but to also promote donation said Larry. “We invited family to help with this, as well as longtime friends of ours, John’s and Eleanor’s. We, of course, had help from Saving Sight and the IL Secretary of State’s Office, both at the event and leading up to it.”

“On the day of the event, we were overwhelmed by the response,” said Larry. “We saw former teachers and classmates of John’s, including his former jazz band director. Family and friends visited from all over the state of Illinois and Iowa.”

The decision to participate in the Donate Life Float was an easy one for their family. “We are blessed that our business was in a position to sponsor John this year. We have been involved with the Donate Life Float for 6 years – first as honorees and the last 5 as volunteers and committee members,” said Larry.

“It is unbelievable that John’s floragraph will be placed on the Donate Life Float and will have the chance to been seen by hundreds of thousands on the parade, and millions on television,” said Vivian.

 

Look for the Donate Life Float during the 129th Rose Parade on January 1, 2018.

 

A Mission in a Daughter’s Memory

A Mission in a Daughter’s Memory

Mariah was a vivacious, outgoing 18-year-old when she lost her life in a texting while driving accident. Determined not to let her death be in vain, Mariah’s mother, Merry, has been on mission to save the lives of other teens – both as a spokesperson for AT&T’s “It Can Wait” anti-texting campaign and as a supporter of eye, organ and tissue donation.

Mariah was always known for her gentle and caring spirit. Said Merry, “She had a heart that was full of love. The feature that her friends missed the most was her hug that usually included a twirl and/or a pat on the fanny for encouragement. She was quick-witted and always had a funny story to share.”

Throughout high school, Mariah worked on the school newspaper and yearbook and was a member of the Junior Police Academy. Her plan was to attend Georgia State University and major in psychology. Unfortunately, Mariah’s dreams were cut short in 2009 when she was involved in an auto accident the day before her high school graduation. Eight days later when she lost her life, her parents had to make the difficult decision whether or not to donate her organs and tissue. Because of their strong faith and Mariah’s caring personality, the family agreed to donation.

For Merry , the choice was obvious because, “Mariah was very generous by nature. In her own words from her social networking site – ‘I love to help everyone. If I have it in my power to do something for you, I never hesitate.’ It was this spirit that led us to continue her legacy of giving through organ donation.”

Mariah’s organs were donated through Midwest Transplant Network while Saving Sight provided her corneas to a recipient in Missouri who was able to regain her sight and her independence.

“It Can Wait”

Because Mariah’s accident was caused by texting and driving, Merry made it her mission to spread awareness of its dangers to save teens and parents from the same heartache. Shortly after Mariah’s death, Merry shared her story on her local news, capturing the attention of AT&T which was developing a texting public awareness campaign.

In 2010, Merry became one of the spokespeople for AT&T’s “It Can Wait” anti-texting-while-driving campaign, and Mariah’s story was featured in its “The Last Text” documentary. Merry traveled to Dallas on a satellite media tour to 18 different cities, was featured on CNN and Good Morning America, and was interviewed by USA Today.

In addition to her work with AT&T, Merry and her family are setting up a foundation in Mariah’s honor to inform teens about the dangers of distraction, both from a texting while driving aspect and from a spiritual aspect. Their “Where U At?” ministry, based on the last text Mariah ever received, will encourage teens to look at where they stand in relationship with God.

By sharing Mariah’s story to protect the lives of teens around the world, Merry is allowing Mariah to fulfill one of her most important dreams. “Mariah wanted to become a psychology teacher and work with inner-city kids. It’s funny how things work out. Even in her death she is still accomplishing her goal as a teacher.”

Watch “The Last Text.”