Editor's note: Roughly 3,000 people in Tennessee and 106,000 nationwide are waiting for the lifesaving gift of an organ transplant. Reporter Carrie Sharp is taking an in-depth look at the process, including the selfless decision of those who donate.
Gavin Cole, 18, signed up to be an organ donor when adding a motorcycle certification to his driver's license. It was just four months before he died. A driver hit him while he was on that motorcycle, sending his parents on a journey of immense pain, but also pride.
Standing in his room, Gavin’s mom, Heather Cole, reminisced about her funny, particular, motorcycle-riding track star son.
“Sometimes I walk in here, and I get angry all over again because he should still be here. He should still be here,” Heather said.
Heather and Mark Cole of Mt. Juliet find both comfort and anguish inside these walls. It's where they were when a trooper showed up to tell them their son had been hit while on his motorcycle, and they needed to go to the hospital.
“At first, all we were told is that they were accessing him and he’s in surgery — going into surgery — and all the lady would say is that they had to intubate him,” Heather Cole said. “I turned around and there was a little closet, and that’s where I went to and sat down and just cried. I knew that it wasn’t going to be ok.”
Gavin was suffering from fractures all over his body, had severe swelling on his brain and was on life support. When doctors determined there was nothing more they could do, something Gavin had done just four months prior determined the next steps.
Mark Cole clearly remembered a conversation with Gavin after he added a motorcycle certification to his driver’s license.
“When he came back, he pointed out he was an organ donor, and we said, 'Really? Are you sure about that?' He said, 'Yeah – if something happens to me, I’ve got no use for my body anymore.'”
While getting his license renewed, Gavin was asked the question all drivers are: Would you like to be an organ donor?
His "yes" would soon change many lives.
“There were six organs that went to five people that they said would not have made it beyond the end of the year — and this was at the beginning of December — had they not received his organs,” said Mark.
His "yes" also provided a gift to his own family — the gift of a little more time.
“Because his organs were being harvested, and it takes some time to align, we had a couple of extra days with him I don’t think we would have had otherwise,” Mark said.
When it was time for their final goodbyes, it seemed all of Mt. Juliet turned out, lining the walls of the hospital in what's called an Honor Walk.
“You are struggling with grief and life at the same time, but also pride,” Mark Cole said.
In the months that have followed, grief and longing remain. Heather and Mark search for purpose in the tragedy of losing their son.
“I’m proud of what he did and the lives he saved, but I miss him,” said Heather.
There have been glimpses of the good, like meeting the woman who received Gavin's heart and hearing it beat once again.
“It sounded just like him. I know it’s his heart. It was strong — so strong,” she said.
If you want to learn more about organ donation or register to be an organ donor, visit the Be The Gift Today website.
Read other stories of lifesaving organ donation by Carrie Sharp.