Friday, September 27, 2013

TOP STORY >> Turning tragedy around

Leader staff writer

A Sherwood woman is shining a light on the option of organ and tissue donation during a dark moment in people’s lives to help give hope to others.

Carly Hightower’s son, Matthew, was a 9-year-old who just finished the third grade at Westside Elementary in Cabot.

He died in June 2011 from a dirt-bike accident in Alexander, where he succumbed to a fatal neck injury. His heart valves were donated to save three or four lives.

His mother said, “I always wanted to be an organ donor when I was a kid, always believed in organ donation.”

When Hightower saw her son at the hospital, she started a conversation with doctors about wanting to donate his organs.

Becky Gertsch of Jacksonville, a hospital development coordinator for the Arkansas Regional Organ Recovery Agency said, “Anytime there is a death at a hospital in our service area, we are contacted.”

The ARORA is a nonprofit that obtains organs from donors for transplant.

A person can provide a heart, liver, two kidneys, two lungs, a pancreas, tissue, corneas, heart valves, skin, tendons and bone.

She said a person who is brain-dead and on a ventilator can have their organs recovered for transplant.

Hightower’s son went too long without oxygen and his organs could not be saved, but his tissues were recovered. Gertsch said, “Pediatric heart valves are always needed.”

Hightower said, “It was easy. A representative came and told me what they could take and the process they could use. I had to sign some papers, and they gave me a packet to take home with all the information.

“Organ donation saves lives and gives hope. More people need to be more aware and educated about it,” she continued.

“I know Matthew would have wanted that. He was very giving, compassionate and caring. He was very mature for his age,” Hightower said.

A live and silent auction fundraiser is being held on Friday, Oct. 4 at the Next Level Events, 1400 W. Markham St. in Little Rock, to help with the cost of sending several Arkansas donor families to represent the state during the Rose Bowl Parade on Jan. 1.

Hightower will be attending. She will not be riding on the Donate Life float but helping to decorate it. She will sit in the stands with other donor families during the parade.

She said she is excited to be a part of it and to meet other donor families.

Gertsch went to the Rose Bowl Parade last year and helped to decorate the Donate Life float. She said it was an emotional experience as donor families from all over the county met and connected.

She said everyone was excited to see each other and were supportive as it helped them on their grief journey.

“It is an amazing process, a fine science on how it is organized, logistically putting the right color flower in the right spot,” Gertsch said.

She noted that they decorated the float in the big cold warehouse, working in eight-hour shifts.

Putting flowers on the float began on Dec. 26 and continued until Dec. 31, when the floats are judged.

Gertsch said the judging was solemn and emotional for the Donate Life float. She said neat traditions were carried out.

The float honors lost loved ones. The donor is memorialized with their name on a rose in a vial placed in the dedication garden at the front of the float.

The Rose Bowl parade’s Donate Life float is used to spread the message. For more information or to sign up to be an organ donor, visit or