Andy was 14 years old when he was hit by a drunk driver on the street in front of our home. He was on his way across the street on a farm vehicle to take care of his horse, Max, who was very bothered by bugs on that beautiful August day in 1995. After three days in Erie County Medical Center’s trauma unit, Andrew was declared brain dead and when I asked the young doctor what we should do now, he posed the question, “Have you ever thought of organ donation?”
We hadn’t. He was 14 years old, and we had never even imagined how he felt about organ donation, let alone asked him. Initially, I held onto the idea like a drowning man thrown a lifeline. It seemed like a way to keep at least part of my beautiful son alive. However, it was important to us to know what Andy would have wanted. We included our other son and our daughter, who were adults, in the decision, and they assured us that they thought Andy would have wanted to be an organ donor. Eventually, we came to that conclusion ourselves, based on who Andy was during his life, and what he was like.
Here’s what Andy was like:
He was kind. When we were asked if we would take in Max, an old horse who had seen better days, we hesitated, imagining taking care of a rather large animal that we couldn’t even ride. Andy said he would assume the responsibility, feeding him every day, cleaning out his stall, administering frequent rubdowns with bug spray in the summer, and doing these duties all year round. “He’s old now, and he’s been a good horse to the people who owned him. Let’s just let him pasture here until he dies, he deserves it,” said Andy.
When his older brother was planning his wedding, he asked Andy to be a groomsman. He was only 13 and didn’t really want to be a member of the wedding party, because he wanted to sit with his rowdy cousins at the reception instead of at the head table. “Well, talk to the bride,” I told him, “explain to her how you feel and see what she says.” He did. Afterward I asked what the outcome was. “I’m going to be in the wedding,” he said. “She said it would mean a lot to her.”
He was compassionate. “Even though he was a burly kid, already taller than me at 5 foot 7 inches when he was killed and over 200 pounds, he played football, baseball and lacrosse, he had a good heart, and reached out to his teammates, including the mentally challenged kid on his baseball team, the bullied kid at school and his younger cousin, who he took the time to play basketball with. He said he knew how it felt to be the youngest and no one wanted to play with you. Every holiday season he urged me to buy turkeys to donate to the needy, because “I really care about those people, Mom.”
He was willing to help. He was at the farm, owned by his grandparents and uncles, nearly every day, helping with the work, joking with the others and pouring his lively personality into every moment he was there. He helped his grandmother wash her windows when he saw her preparing for a family reunion set for the next day. He told me that he was like Ann Landers at school, since everyone came to him to talk about their problems. He laughed about it, but he relished the task, enjoying a chance to help others by listening to their concerns.
He had a sense of humor he used to enrich the lives of others. He called one of his friends the “Master Link King,” because he was unusually skilled at fixing bikes and machines. He fed deer when we went camping while his father took video, mugging for the camera by pretending to eat some of the food himself. After performing as part of his middle school band concert, he lifted his hands high over the heads of the others and twirled his drum sticks like a rock star, much to the delight of the audience. At his wake, his math teacher confided in us that Andy would write “I love math” on the chalkboard every day and as he filed out of class he would look at her and say, “I love math!” She began to feel very good about the job she was doing that prompted a student to write such a thing on her board every day, and shared it with the other teachers in the staff room. “Yes,” said his history teacher, “He writes I love history on mine, and I love science on hers, and I love English on his.”
After considering these and many of the other loving traits our son possessed, the decision to donate his organs was easier, because we were fairly sure it was what he would have decided for himself, if that were possible. We heard his voice in our hearts, telling us, “Go ahead, these people really need help.” Andy’s organs saved the lives of four people, one of whom has become a dear and cherished friend, and restored eyesight of two others. We were told that one of the recipients of his corneas had never seen her grandchildren up to the point of the donation. That means more and more to us as time passes especially now that we have grandchildren of our own.
Andy is remembered every day, in our hearts and by others in various ways. A scholarship in his memory was established and has helped countless high school students go to college. An annual 5K “Andy Run” run was coordinated in our little hamlet for ten years running. The young men on his lacrosse team displayed his number on each of their helmets the next season. Our town recreation department established an annual little league baseball award in his name. There are trees growing on the grounds of his high school and our town hall, planted in his memory. Three of his nephews, who were never able to meet him, are named for him.
In my heart and soul, I see Andy every day, singing “Uptown Girl” at age 3, going off to kindergarten at age 5, trick or treating as a transformer at 9, tricking his sister’s future husband into taking him to the flea market to shop for sports cards and a thousand other things. I also see, in my mind’s eye, five others whose lives and whose sight were saved because of him. In life and in death, Andy is truly a hero.