Post Number: 3878
|Posted on Thursday, January 27, 2011 - 04:25 pm: ||
Please take the time to read this. Janet Keller is one of our very own Donor Moms on this site.
Janet's son Joe
Joseph Edward Keller was born on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, on June 1, 1980. Our ‘Little Joey’ was the youngest of our four children. Joe was a very pleasant child to bring up. It always seemed we had the ‘perfect’ family. A parent’s ideal dreams were coming true. Tom & Elizabeth were both out of school, and pursuing careers. Mike, an easy-going junior in high school, and Joe, our ‘baby,’ was just as easy-going as his brother. Life was finally slowing down a little: only one baseball practice, instead of four!
On August 18th, 1994, all of that changed.
A tropical storm had passed through the area, and it had rained for days on end. Joe and four of his friends from school were bored after being stuck in the house for almost a week. He and his schoolmates called each other the night of the 17th, and decided they would get together. School was about to start in less than two weeks, and they felt they needed a chance to have some fun before it started. We live in the country, so they decided to go for a long bike ride, stop at their favorite swimming spot, and also doing some bridge jumping. It was a normal thing for them to do on summer day. It was shortly after noon when they decided they had to head for home. Joe was supposed to be home by one to let the Sears repairman in to fix the washer. When they were getting ready to come home, one of the girls that was with them decided to go back in swimming, when she did, she went in on the lower side of a low-head dam. The hydraulics of the dam pulled her under. Joe and his friend tried going in to save her. The other young man was much smaller than Joe, and changed his mind. Joe attempted to save the life of his schoolmate. He was not as lucky as she was. A low-head dam has a mind of it’s own, it decides how long to hold onto whatever it is that it has, and Joe was held under the water too long.
One of the boys ran to the campground across the road to call for help, while the owners of the campground came out to try to help. The paramedics were on the scene shortly. The paramedic that worked on Joe was my cousin Mark. He tried so hard to save Joe’s life that day, along with the other EMT’s, I will be forever grateful to them for their help. On the way to the hospital, they were finally able to get a heartbeat on him again. It was touch-and-go for the next few hours until he was stable. My husband, Dave, was called at work and told about the accident, the HR person took him to the hospital to meet Joe.
I arrived home about 4 PM. My sister, Darlene, arrived shortly after I got the news from my daughter that Joe was in an accident. My daughter, Elizabeth, was still trying to find her brother, Mike, and was planning on picking up Tom from work, and going to the hospital. They were flying Joe, via Life Lion helicopter from Hanover to York Hospital to be taken care of by the Trauma Unit.
Most of us arrived at the hospital at the same time. I will never forget the sound of Life Lion landing. We were met by the patient rep. and put in a room to wait for news. Dave was not there yet; he was being driven from Hanover to York. As we all gathered in this room, the doctor came in, and told us very bluntly that Joe was not going to make it. He said they had lost him at the creek, and several times after that, and he had no chance of making it. I remember sitting there, not knowing what to say. I thought he had broken an arm or a leg…not drowned! My son was an expert swimmer, how could that happen? I remember my oldest sister asking where he was and if we could see him, just to let him know that we were there, and he was not alone. I was speechless when he replied that it didn’t matter, he would not know we were there anyway. This went against everything that I had ever believed in. I asked the doctor if he was still alive and he replied, “Yes”, and I said, “Then there is still hope for him”.
The next few days were touch and go…many hurdles to cross, and me thinking that each day he made it through was a good thing, that he was going to pull through this, he was young, strong, and determined. We spent those days sitting with Joe, reading to him, talking to him, or just quietly sitting by his side, and praying.
On another beautiful Sunday morning, we were told that our son, Joe, had died, that he was brain dead. I had a problem understanding exactly what that meant. We shared this with our extended family and friends who had become our support through all of this, who held a 24-hour vigil at the hospital with us. We told them Joe was still there if they wanted to say good bye, and we returned to the ‘room’ to make arrangements for Joe.
Several people met us when Dave and I returned. The doctor, and nurses, Tom & Rick, transplant coordinators from Delaware Valley Transplant Program, (now GOLDP) the chaplain at the hospital (who happened to have been the priest at our church when Joe was a baby, and had baptized him). They asked us how we felt about organ donation, and I immediately told them No! My husband said yes. I told them it wasn’t fair. He had risked his life to save someone else, and now they were asking for him to give even more!
We spent an endless amount of time after that talking about Joe, and the kind of kid he was. Joe was a great kid. We told stories about him and shared his life with all that were there. Joe was a great athlete; he played baseball, basketball, wrestled, and was on the swim team when he was very young. He was also a Boy Scout, on his way to being an Eagle Scout. It just wasn’t fair that such a good kid, with a good future ahead of him should loose his life. As we sat and talked about Joe, Tom the one coordinator said to me, you know you have told us about Joe, and he sounded like a great kid who had a heart of gold, wouldn’t it be a shame to loose that, and not be able to share it with someone else? At that point, I could not agree with him more. After all if he had not had a heart of gold, we would not have been there, he was always trying to help someone out.
When I finally agreed, I told them it had to be a family decision, that I needed for my kids to be there to agree on it, he was as much their brother, as much as our son. I would not have them hating me somewhere down the line, because we did something they did not agree with. His brother, Tom, was 21 years old, and when asked, he agreed, it was the right thing to do, as he said, you can’t take it with you, so you may as well share it with someone who needs it. Elizabeth was 20, and expecting our first grandchild at the time, was very loud like her mother in voicing her opinion that it was not going to happen. Mike was 17, and he quietly disagreed with our decision. We talked about all of the things we did before, and answered all of their questions on donation, and what it meant. Finally we came to an agreement, as a family to donate Joe’s heart, kidneys, liver, pancreas, and skin. We also donated his lungs that could not be transplanted, but were used for research. As a family that afternoon, we signed all the papers together.
I personally had a problem with my decision, I knew I had done the right thing, but I was not convinced that I had done what Joe wanted me to do. After all, we had never talked about organ donation, and how could I know that I did what he wanted. I felt as though he was old enough to make that choice, and we could only guess at what he wanted. I usually took a daily walk, and when I did, I always took the ‘short block’. We had two where we lived: one two miles long and one five miles long. As I got to the end of the road that day, I found myself turning right instead of the usual left. As I walked, I passed the home of one of Joe’s friends. It was as if someone was playing an old movie for me. I saw them playing together, they were six or seven years old. Joe used to fuss over him like a little mother hen. When he came to visit us, Joe would have me set the alarm clock so that when it was time for him to take his medicine, we would not forget. If he ate with us, Joe would check to make sure everything was ‘good’ for him. At that moment I recalled this little boy had a liver transplant a few years before Joe had met him. I remembered my son telling me at a very young age, that he thought that was the most awesome thing that someone could do for someone else. It was as if the weight of the world was lifted from my shoulders. I finally realized that I had done exactly what was right, and what Joe had wanted also! I knew then it was Joe, dragging me that way, and kicking me in the pants to tell me that I should not worry about it, I did what he wanted!
We have come along way since August 21, 1994. Our family has talked about organ donation many times, and I now know exactly what each of my family members want. I remember my brother-in-law saying to me as he hugged me after Joe died that day in the hospital that he didn’t agree with what we were doing, but he would support us. He was the first one to come to us a few weeks later with a donor card. He told us, “If it’s good enough for Joe, it is good enough for me.” And as most of our family and friends renew their driver’s license, most have brought that license to us, and said, “Look, I’m doing this for Joe!” We have all learned a great deal about organ and tissue donation since Joe’s death, I just wish we had known just part of it before he died. We try hard to talk to as many people as possible about organ and tissue donation, because we would hope that there would never be every family could make an educated decision on donation. I thank Tom & Rick everyday for being so compassionate and patient with me that day, and the many days since then. Our favorite groups to talk to are the young kids; I talk to many school groups. Dave and I together with a recipient have talked to a countless amount of Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and Cub Scouts. We tell them about organ donation, how important it is to talk to their families, and also help them to earn their Organ Donor Awareness Patch. We do a float in the York Halloween Parade every year, in conjunction with the boys to promote donor awareness.
Has all of this made up for the loss of our son, and brother? No, but nothing can do that. But it means that his life and death have had a lot more meaning. Even after his death he continues to touch the hearts of so many through his gift of life. Thank you for allowing me to share my son’s story with all of you. Bless you!
In loving Memory of our son, Joseph E. Keller, 6/1/80—8/21/94
Janet, we all love you, lit'l lady.
Post Number: 546
|Posted on Friday, January 28, 2011 - 12:06 am: ||
Bob......I don't know what to say.....bless your heart for remembering Joe so often. I cannot tell you, as a mother, how it feels to have my son remembered by so many. I have said before that a parent's worst fear when their child dies, is that they are forgotten....and I know that in this group, Joe will never be forgotten...bless you all for all that you do!!
Love you all so much,
Post Number: 15626
|Posted on Friday, February 04, 2011 - 12:13 pm: ||
Janet was one of our first Donor Mom's to join us here back in 2000.
We love Janet and will always remember Joe.
Bob- You are the Best~ sending you a big hug for always bringing attention to our donor families. You ROCK!! I am going to buy something now from your Cafe Press page.