A piece of life carries on

2013-04-04T19:30:00Z 2013-04-04T20:49:03Z A piece of life carries onBy Vanessa Renderman vanessa.renderman@nwi.com, (219) 933-3244 nwitimes.com

CROWN POINT | The memorial scrap books Sandy Whitenack compiled to honor her daughter, Kathy, who died at age 16 in a rollover accident, have pictures of her in typical poses.

On one page, Kathy wears a gown before a high school formal dance. Other pictures show her on a boat on vacation or running at a track meet or sitting atop a Clydesdale.

But, photos of Kathy are absent from other pages, replaced by a middle-aged woman from South Carolina named Joyce.

The heart that beats within Joyce once belonged to Kathy.

Whitenack shared her daughter's organ donation story Thursday during a service at Franciscan St. Anthony Health hospital in Crown Point, in observance of National Donate Life Month.

A few months before the North Judson teen died in 2006, she checked the box on her first driver's license, indicating she wanted to be an organ donor.

When her grieving parents sat at a South Bend hospital after learning their daughter was brain dead, they waited for the request for her organs.

Her heart went to Joyce. A kidney went to a school principal in Louisiana, and the other to a diabetic man in southern Indiana. Her liver lengthened the life of a woman, who died two years to the day that Kathy died, her mother said.

Kathy's parents and Joyce exchanged letters, cards and phone calls.

"We instantly felt connected and comfortable with her," Whitenack said. 

Eventually, Joyce visited. It was surreal, knowing Kathy's heart had returned home, her mother said.

"There's not a word to describe how that felt — standing in my daughter's room, looking at her memorabilia," she said.

Kathy's story was one of four shared at Thursday's service.

Linda Belcher, an emergency medical services educator, said a donated heart extended her son Casey's life by a dozen years.

Jean Miller, an emergency department nursing manager, told the story of her son, Landon, who was born with a congenital heart defect and received a vascular tissue donation.

"We are forever grateful to that person who chose tissue donation," Miller said.

Julie Parent, an Alverno Information Services business analyst, donated a kidney to her cousin. Her cousin initially declined, because she didn't want Parent to take on the risk of surgery. 

"They put the kidney in, and it was functioning at 98 percent immediately," she said.

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