Organ Donation: The Gift of Life

Lifestyle / Stories / November 6, 2016

The date was September 10, 2014, a day like most others in her busy life. A retired school counselor at Jefferson City Public Schools, Theresa McClellan now worked as a graduate school recruiter for William Woods and was driving home from a trip through the western reaches of her southwest Missouri territory.

Photo by Travis Duncan

After going through Monett, she checked in with her husband, Rick, around 6:30 p.m.

“Rick was going to play volleyball and I told him ‘I would be home around 9 and we joked about who would get home first,” she said.

Married for 37 years, he had been the love of her life since she was 17 years old  when they met in their hometown of Clinton.

“He was four years older than me and I really felt like we grew up together in our marriage,” she said.

After passing through the Lake of the Ozarks, Starbucks in hand, her cell phone rang.

“It was Rick’s teammate Scott Distler and he was frantic,” she said. “He told me Rick had gone up for a serve and collapsed and that he applied CPR until paramedics had arrived. He told me to go to Capital Region Medical Center.”

A year earlier Rick had bypass surgery and doctors detected that he’d also suffered a silent heart attack but didn’t experience any heart damage. He was cleared to go back to athletics, which he loved.

She called her daughter, Kristen, in Colorado Springs, and her son, Connor, in Springfield, other friends and neighbors. “I asked them to pray,” she said.

Arriving at Capital Region, Scott, Ken Enloe, a good friend and neighbor, and her pastor Doyle Sager from First Baptist Church greeted her with the bad news.

“My seemingly healthy, active husband was gone,” she said.

Shocked, devastated and heartbroken, she had a decision to make. She learned that Rick had checked his driver’s license to be an organ donor.

McClellan wanted to follow his wishes but found out that many people get hostile, angry and defensive about their loved one’s choice. She was met with many questions, judgment and resistance by her own immediate family members.
“It’s a very individual choice, but as I told my family, if Rick’s life and talents can provide vision, freedom from pain or the ability for others to heal, that is the thing to do, the best way we can honor him.”

She had already decided not to have an autopsy, so her husband’s body was taken to Kansas City to harvest skin, bone and corneas and then returned to Jefferson City. Later she found out that his corneas went to a nurse in Iowa, which she found somewhat ironic since both her children are nurses – her daughter on a surgical trauma ward at Penrose Hospital in Colorado Springs and her son in the Cardio Pulmonary ICU at Cox South in Springfield.

Even in her grief, McClellan began speaking on behalf of Saving Sight, a non profit that operates several vision health programs—including Cornea Donation – serving more than 100,000 people worldwide with offices in Missouri, Kansas, and Central Illinois.

One local speaking engagement was held in the gym at her church, where Rick’s visitation had been held and where he spent many hours playing basketball and mentoring youth and young coaches in the Upward Basketball program.
Now more than two years later, McClellan has never questioned her decision.

11-days“My husband lived life to the fullest,” she said. “He bought a new Corvette 11 days before he died and he loved athletics and being active,” she said. “It’s fitting that he gave a better life to others even after his own death.”

Approximately 50 percent of the U.S. adult population are registered organ, eye and tissue donors and 73 percent of Missouri adults have said yes to donation and are in the registry.
For more information on organ donation, go to www.YesTheyWantMe.com.

Story by Shelley Gabert | Photography Submitted

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