A photo and a rose honor Cassidy Hale in the memorial garden at the 2018 Donor Dash in Denver. Maggie Busch and Jackie, Tayler and Randy Hale, pictured from left, completed the 5K run/walk to honor Cassidy and other organ and tissue donors, to celebrate the lives of transplant recipients, and to recognize those who continue to wait for a lifesaving transplant.
Organ donation: a chance to shine on
There are two people out there in the world who, though they never knew Cassidy Hale, have sight because of her donated corneas. Two others have beating hearts because of her valves. Seven received skin grafts. Thirty-four received bone transplants. They may never know who they have to thank for it, but their lives are brighter because of Cassidy’s decision to be an organ donor.
Cassidy’s father, Randy, shared that one of his greatest fears is that people would forget her. Certainly none of the recipients of her donated organs will ever forget what she did, but what about everyone else?
Take it from someone who never knew Cassidy: Her memory lives on. Living in Holyoke, it doesn’t take long to see the telltale red and yellow. Perhaps it’s someone sporting a T-shirt or bracelet or profile picture with a lightning bolt. For anyone who’s ever wondered why the Flash seems to be the patron superhero of this rural Colorado town, it’s because of Cassidy.
After her death on Sept. 16, 2015, the Flash logo was adopted as a symbol of her life. Three and half years later, it still makes regular appearances, reminding people of her impact.
In much the same way, flashes of blue and green have recently shown up around town. April is National Donate Life Month, and April 12 was Blue and Green Day, a day to show off the Donate Life colors and spread awareness for the need of organ, eye and tissue donors. The Hale family has taken it a step further, shining a light on the cause all month long.
Blue and green lightbulbs illuminate their porch at home and at the intersection of Interocean Avenue and Denver Street, where Randy is president of Holyoke Community Federal Credit Union.
“We do our very best to be sure that she’s honored in what we do,” her mother, Jackie, said.
Organ donation was something vaguely on the Hales’ radar before Cassidy’s death. Both Randy and Jackie recall having the designation on their driver’s licenses for years. When the time came for Cassidy to get her learner’s permit, though, it wasn’t something they’d talked about as a family beforehand. Cassidy discussed it with her mom at the clerk’s office when she was asked whether she’d like to be an organ donor.
“Your dad and I are, but you don’t have to be,” Jackie said. “It’s your body.”
At 15 years old, Cassidy made her decision, telling her mom that she wouldn’t need her organs in heaven so someone who needs them might as well use them. No one could have imagined that six months later, almost to the day, her parents would be asked to reinforce her decision.
As far as the Hale family is concerned, organ donation is the ultimate selfless act and it’s biblical. Referencing John 15:13, Jackie pointed out that there is no greater love than to lay down your life for a friend. “In Cassidy’s case, she laid down her life for 43 friends,” Jackie added, pain and pride mixing in her voice.
Organ donation is a testament to how beautifully the human body is made, Randy reflected. God created them, knowing that transplants would be a possibility.
The ripples that Cassidy’s decision to donate life have had are so visible it’s nearly impossible not to see God working through it. In her immediate circle, of course, Jackie and Randy remain registered as organ donors. When her sister, Tayler, was old enough to get her learner’s permit, she registered as well.
With an attitude strikingly similar to her sister’s, Tayler felt like it just made sense. “You have no use for organs after you die, so why not?” she said succinctly.
“I’m proud of Tayler for making the decision as well,” Jackie added.
Outside of their immediate circle, the Hales have also heard stories from loved ones who have since registered as organ donors themselves specifically because of Cassidy.
Last year, Phillips County was honored for having a 73% donor designation rate at the driver’s license office. A report at the time read, “In 2015, the Phillips County DDR was just above 65 percent. Something within the past two years has inspired more locals to say ‘yes’ to organ donation.”
When she read that, Jackie immediately had a feeling she knew what that “something” was, making the connection that local donor designation had gone up since Cassidy’s death. And that was just at the driver’s license office. It’s worth noting that registering doesn’t have to be done there; it can be completed or updated any time at registerme.org.
When organs or tissue are donated, the recipient won’t necessarily know who the donor was. Both sides have to want it. For the Hales, it took time to process their grief before the thought opening up the door to communication from recipients even seemed possible. On April 26, 2018, Jackie reached out to their aftercare coordinator at the Donor Alliance; she was ready to see if any recipients had made contact.
There was one letter that had been waiting two years for that moment. Even when she had it in her possession, it took Jackie time to be ready to open it.
Letters between recipients and donors’ families must go through the Donor Alliance, where they’re checked to make sure nothing harmful has been written. Even so, the prospect of that communication can be emotional.
Upon finally reading the letter, the Hales found out that a woman who had been a nurse for 40 years was able to continue working after receiving a spinal fusion made possible by Cassidy’s donation. She wrote to the Hales that she hopes to one day help others like their daughter helped her.
Imagine the impact that nurse has on others. Now imagine all the other recipients impacting their circles of influence. All that came from one teen’s decision to be an organ donor, and that’s part of the reason the Hale family is so passionate about raising awareness for the cause. There’s no telling how far-reaching the effects of another person’s decision to donate life may be.
The Hales don’t know much about the other recipients of Cassidy’s organs and tissue, but they do know that one was a 7-year-old boy. As a mother, Jackie finds peace in knowing that, despite losing her daughter, another mother got to take her son home.
Recipients of Cassidy’s organs and tissue that her family knows of, live in Colorado, Ohio, Texas, Pennsylvania, New York, Wisconsin, Florida and Wyoming. That’s an awfully big ripple and quite the distance for her light to shine.
“It means the world knowing that your child’s still being thought about,” Jackie said.
From her perspective as a high school student, Tayler sees definite room for increased awareness surrounding organ donation. It’s not something talked about much, she said, but it should be, considering how many people it helps.
Hale family readies for Donor Dash 5K
National Donate Life Month is drawing to an end, but the Hale family is already looking ahead to the next opportunity to honor Cassidy and raise awareness. On July 21, they will participate in the 20th annual Donor Dash 5K run/walk in Denver. It will be their third time, and each year, they wear Flash-inspired shirts designed by Cassidy’s high school class.
The goal of the Donor Dash is threefold: to honor the lives of organ and tissue donors, to celebrate the lives of transplant recipients, and to recognize those who continue to wait for a lifesaving transplant.
It’s a sobering experience but one Tayler would recommend nonetheless. Even if someone isn’t connected to the world of organ donation, she explained, it’s still worth going to.
Last year, a record-setting 6,419 people participated. Many teams wear shirts that honor donors or recipients, and Jackie noted that she can’t help but wonder if part of Cassidy is there in the crowd somewhere.
Randy and Jackie welcome anyone who would like to walk or run on the Faith in Flash team to contact them. If that’s not possible, there are countless other ways to be involved in the Donate Life movement. Register as an organ donor, tell a friend, share on social media. How remarkable would it be to see yet another local surge in donor designation rates as Cassidy’s memory continues to shine on?
Organ and tissue donations made after death aren’t the only way to make a difference either. Kidney and liver transplants, for example, can come from living donors. According to Donate Life, 114,000 people await lifesaving organ transplants. Of those, 82% need a kidney and 13% need a liver. In 2017, living donors made more than 6,000 transplants possible.
For those looking for a way to make a difference that carries less risk, there’s the bone marrow registry. Even easier than that is being a blood donor. Even in Holyoke, one doesn’t need to look far to find the opportunity. On Monday, May 20, a blood drive will be held at First Baptist Church.
Of course there are people out there who can’t donate for some reason or another. For them, maybe raising awareness is the way to make a difference.
For more information about National Donate Life Month, the Donor Dash or organ donation in general, visit www.donoralliance.org/.