In February of 1990, Jerry received a kidney transplant that saved his life. When he received the kidney, Jerry was told he had seven more years to live. Thankfully, his doctors were wrong — he lived 23 more years to age 64. Jerry became a major supporter of donation in the extra years the transplant afforded him, and when he passed away on October 7, 2013, he became a donor himself.
“He wanted to pass on to help others,” said his daughter, Janice. She and her brother, Jay, had no doubt that he wanted to be a donor when he died, which made the decision simple and peaceful. “It’s really helped our family. Knowing that he’s helping other people and that he wanted to do that and his body was able to be used, that helps us. We like knowing we carried out his wishes.”
Janice described Jerry as a friendly man who didn’t know a stranger. He enjoyed fishing, helping Randy cut hay in the hay field, and spending time with his family and friends. The diabetes affected his sight, but when he could see well, he enjoyed reading, too. He also used his new lease on life to participate in donor awareness programs. “He went to Jefferson City at one point to plant a tree at the governor’s mansion as part of an awareness program,” Janice remembered.
When Jerry retired after 30+ years at MFA Feed, he was able to watch Janice’s three children so she and her husband could both work full-time. Now Janice works at Salem Christian Church’s daycare, enabling her to continue working and be with her children while her husband is away for his railroad job. But before this career change, she worked as an EMT, an Emergency Room Technician, and a Certified Nurse’s Assistant. “Since Dad was in the hospital from the time I was four years old, healthcare is all I’ve ever known,” she said. “I wanted to help others. As an EMT, there was a rush because you didn’t know what was going to be there when you got the call.”
The excitement of EMT work didn’t prepare her to receive a letter from one of Jerry’s tissue recipients. Jerry donated his corneas, one of which helped a woman who was going blind from Fuchs’ dystrophy. The thank you letter she wrote to Janice made an impact. “I had to have my husband read the letter to me,” she said. “But then I’ve been taking it around and showing it to my friends and family.” Janice plans to respond to the cornea recipient’s letter, to share what it’s meant to her and her family that Jerry helped someone through donation. “I knew [Saving Sight] would let us know if he was eligible to donate corneas, but I didn’t know we’d find out if somebody got them,” she said. “Knowing a specific person could get use from his cornea, that he’s actually helping someone, that’s comforting to all of us.”
Jerry’s heroic decision to be a donor continues to be meaningful to his family. “We all still wear the green Donate Life bracelets,” Janice said. “We all registered and got our licenses changed. Even his grandchildren know that some of his body parts helped other people and they think that’s awesome.”
To join Janice, her family, and millions of Americans like Jerry who signed up for the donor registry, register online at Donate Life America or at your local Department of Motor Vehicles office. And be sure to share your decision with your family and friends.