Kayla Jo s Final Gift By Jackie Nornes, Ironton, MN

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1 Kayla Jo s Final Gift By Jackie Nornes, Ironton, MN I believe that when most people give a gift, they do so freely and unconditionally. As we grow older, we understand that gifts can take many forms, but usually are given upon reflection of the meaning our gift might have to another. At sixteen years old, Kayla Jo Borgerson made a thoughtful and meaningful decision to let her final gift in life actually be a gift of life to others by allowing her organs and other tissues to be donated. No one could have envisioned the significance of this decision at that time, and how it would all transpire into reality so quickly. Kayla Jo was a beautiful young lady who played the flute, loved listening to music, drawing and ice skating with her greatest passion being dance. She was quiet in many respects, but was a typical teenager with a zest for life that could be seen through pictures and in her interactions with a close group of friends and classmates. She attended Lakeview South High School in Lakeville, MN where she was an honor student as well. She was a middle child having an older brother, Kyle, who was in college and a younger sister, Katie, who lived at home with her and her mom and dad, Keith and Susan. Kayla Jo Borgerson, seventeen years old, died in a car accident in the late afternoon just two hundred feet from the front door of her home in Lakeville. She was driving with her sister, Katie, fifteen, in the passenger side. Katie was critically injured and has since almost fully recovered from her brain injury and surgeries to replace lost teeth and bone in her face. President Obama had just been elected president the night before when I got the call from her mom. Barely able to speak through her shock and tears, she said, Kayla and Katie have been in a car accident. The doctors think Katie will make it, but want us to consider organ donation for Kayla. It was a conversation with a best friend that can never be prepared for. My body was numb with shock and disbelief. Susan is my best friend from high school and we have remained very close. She and her immediate and extended family have been friends of mine and my family since

2 we were in junior high. She and I have been there for each other ever since I can remember. As I expressed my shock and sympathy, I continued to listen to her story. She told me how they would be doing one more test in a few hours, but that everything was pointing to the fact that Kayla was brain dead and that they needed to consider Kayla s request on her driver s license to be an organ donor (Legally, the parents still make a final decision when the donor is under the age of eighteen). As I listened, I could feel my heart beating faster and my mouth becoming dry. I comforted her as best I could and was asking God to please give me the words that she needed to hear and the message that Kayla would want her to understand. During our conversation we discussed what an incredible gift Kayla would be giving to others and what a gift she had been given to have had this conversation with her daughter, previously. I could feel great pain and anguish in her voice as she was undoubtedly, a mother, trying to come to terms with how to say good bye to her child. I remember her saying through her tears, I hope someone would do the same for us if they were in the same situation. We went on to recall how Kayla always had such a hard time making decisions and how that difficulty lead to Kayla asking her mom one day, Should I check the box on my driver s license application where it asks if I want to be an organ donor? After some discussion, Susan had told her that that was a personal decision that she would have to make on her own. Well, Kayla did make that decision, and it was marked that she wanted to be an organ donor on her driver s license. Susan, and her husband, Keith knew that they would honor that request. I arrived at the hospital the next day. Katie was improving, but was still in intensive care. Kayla was in the bed right next to her. Kayla s body systems were kept functioning through a breathing tube or ventilator. She was being kept extra warm with a warming blanket. I remember being with her grandmother by her bedside and holding her hand. Kayla looked so beautiful and peaceful. I had been so afraid of what I might see, but was so comforted by what I did see. I stayed most of the evening and quickly became enlightened by the whole process families go through when preparing a person for organ donation. The doctors and nurses were amazing. I was in awe of how they

3 explained in detail to the family every thing that was going to happen. They talked slowly and made sure that any questions they had were answered. I was amazed at how they seemed to know exactly what the family was thinking, when to pause, when to give them time to process, and not to hurry any part of the discussion. They were all so gentle and caring. It gave me such comfort to know that this family s grief was so realized and respected. The nurse reassured the family that when the surgeons and their team of people recover organs, a nurse is in the room who tells them all about who Kayla is and her family. The nurse described it as a very somber and respectful process where everyone is cognizant of the fact that there are many people grieving for Kayla including the donor recipients families. Although the donor recipients families are joyful and extremely grateful, they are also greatly saddened knowing that someone has died for their loved one to live. I came to understand that Life Source is the name of the organ and tissue donation organization that acts as a bridge or link between donor families and the transplant families. They begin to take over at the hospital as soon as organ donation has been decided upon. There is a time line that follows that is quite specific and the donor family is made aware of every step in the process. As soon as Kayla s parents signed the donation papers, the whole process was to be completed in thirty six hours. Once donor recipients were identified through genetic tissue matching, organ size, blood type and the severity of a person s illness, Kayla s family was informed as to the sex and age of each of the major organ s recipients. In Kayla s case a forty seven year old woman was to get her heart, a forty three year old woman one kidney, a forty year old man the other kidney and the pancreas, and a twelve year old girl would get her liver. Skin tissues and bone would also go to many others. Before Kayla s organs were recovered early that next morning, there was a prayer service at her bedside and a chance for every one to have closure. I felt honored to be asked to be a part of it with the family. I became part of a spiritual experience that I won t ever forget. There was so much love shared in that room. As Katie sat in a wheel chair next to her, I heard her say, Kayla, you re my hero. You re doing a good thing for so many people. That truly says it all.

4 Susan told me later that the immediate family members were able to walk with Kayla to the operating room to say their last good-byes. The nurse called the family at home the next morning to tell them her time of death and what she shared about Kayla to the team. She told Susan that the last doctor to see Kayla said, God bless you, Kayla. So many things were shared about Kayla in those hours I was with the family and Kayla s closest friends at the hospital. I heard about Kayla s obituary she had written about herself in her Sociology class just weeks before her accident. They even found of copy of it in her backpack at home. Earlier that year for one of her classes, Kayla had also been given a tour of the same funeral home that was used for facilitating her funeral arrangements. Soon after Kayla s donation, Susan received an on Kayla s Caring Bridge site that turned out to be the liver recipient s mother. Through the magic of technology, and a variety of coincidences, this mother was sure that Kayla was the donor for her daughter s liver. They began to correspond and have since become good friends with the family. This has been so comforting for both the families. Usually Life Source facilitates letters between families. After a time, it is up to each family if they want to meet or reveal their identities. The families are healing and moving on. Both families are very involved in the Life Source program and advocating for others to be organ donors. They have been sending the message via television, magazines, booths at fairs and school functions and speaking at drivers training classes. This last April I was invited to be a part of a ceremony by Life Source that honored Susan s volunteer work with the Life Source program. Kayla s gift continues not only in the lives she has saved, but also through the work of so many who are sending the message of organ donation. What a legacy to leave at such a young age. Kayla will never be forgotten and her life will continue to be uplifted and celebrated. To be an organ donor and help save lives, check the box on your driver s license application and share your decision with your family. You can also go to and receive more information. If you live in Minnesota you can register online at Life Source reports that one organ and

5 tissue donor can save or enhance the lives of up to sixty people. The number on the transplant list increases every twelve minutes and is currently more than one hundred thousand. The need is great. Make a difference. Sign up to be an organ donor. Kayla did.

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