In November 2014, Lynne Daus saved four lives when she resuscitated her daughter Jordan after an accidental overdose. Three days later, and after extensive testing, Jordan officially was declared brain dead even as the rest of her body worked as robustly as that of any healthy 18-year-old.
It was then, at one of the worst moments in their lives, that Jordan’s parents consented to have their daughter’s organs donated.
“It may sound strange, but donating Jordan’s organs gave us some happiness in the midst of our grief,” Lynne told me when we recently spoke.
Organs donated from people who have overdosed can be profused, or flushed clean, of any residual toxins. However, as with all organ donation, donors who’ve overdosed must be in a hospital and ventilated when declared brain dead.
These and other rigorous requirements all but guarantee that the deaths of organ donors are traumatic in nature.
While some donors’ wishes are documented on their driver’s licenses or living wills, other times they are not, and families already confronted with extreme loss must quickly decide whether to allow the donation of their loved one’s organs.
Lynne was no stranger to the process of organ donation, which she had discussed at length with Jordan and her other daughter, MaKenna. For five years, Lynne worked as an administrative assistant for a cardiothoracic transplant surgeon. As such, she came to know many organ recipients and, therefore, understood the value of donating her daughter’s organs.
“Even in that moment, you find a place to have something good come from your loved one,” Lynne said.
On Christmas Eve 2014, just a little over a month after Jordan’s death, Lynne learned that Jordan’s heart, liver, pancreas and one kidney had gone to four men in two states ranging from ages 48 to 71.
At six months post-donation, recipients and donor families are given the option to contact one another, but only after agreed upon by both parties, which Lynne did.
She received a letter from the recipient of Jordan’s kidney and wrote him back immediately. And then, for whatever reason, he did not write again for five more years.
Roman Dann received Jordan’s liver and he, too, wrote to Lynne as soon as he could and the two regularly corresponded. However, Roman was hesitant to meet. Then, several months later while at her job at Chagrin Falls Family Health Center, Lynne helped a patient from the same town and with the same last name as Jordan’s liver recipient.
“Are you related to a man named Roman?” she asked him.
“That’s my brother,” he replied.
“I’m Jordan’s mom,” Lynne told him, and they both burst into tears and hugged before going into the hallway to sit on a bench and talk. Roman felt that was the sign he needed and arranged to meet Lynne. Since then, Lynne and Roman have regularly visited Jordan’s grave together, including on Jordan’s birthday and Roman’s transplant anniversary.
“Roman has taken such good care of Jordan,” Lynne told me.
On one hand, she means Jordan’s physical essence, her liver that gives Roman life. But mostly it’s in a larger, more spiritual sense.
“Roman said he’s always known that Jordan’s writing this story,” Lynne told me. “He and his wife are now like family to me.”
In my last column, I described my childhood best friend, Kelly O’Brien Steverson, who is alive today because of a liver and kidney transplant she received from a woman about our age. At the time that the organs became available, there were terrible snowstorms in Indianapolis where Kelly had been in an ICU on continuous kidney filtration for four months. She imagines her donor likely died in a car accident.
But Kelly doesn’t know for sure because she’s not yet decided to contact the donor family. It is common for recipients to feel not only overwhelming gratitude for the organs that saved their lives, but also no small measure of guilt that someone else’s death provided them the opportunity to live.
Lynne works with a donor family support group through Lifebanc, the organization responsible for facilitating organ donation in Northeast Ohio. Members of other donor families often tell Lynne they’ve not heard from the recipients of their loved one’s organs and hope that they will. For many donor families, hearing from recipients is something they eagerly await.
After I spoke with Lynne, I called Kelly and told her this.
“I just don’t know what to say,” Kelly told me.
I told her that Lynne said even a store-bought thank-you card with a signature means the world to donor families.
It’s important to talk with your family about organ and tissue donation. Having a loved one die in a traumatic way is nothing we ever hope happens, and for most of us it won’t.
But if, God forbid, it does, there is some measure of comfort in knowing that out of tragedy other lives may be saved.
“I miss Jordan terribly,” Lynne told me, “but through her gifts of happy people living life, it gives me gratitude knowing something good has come from my loved one. It’s a legacy they leave behind.”
To register to be an organ, eye and tissue donor, go to this Lifebanc link.
This column was first published in the Akron Beacon Journal on June 13, 2021.