By Starrla Cray
DELANO, MN People who knew 2007 Delano High School graduate Austin Shimon couldn’t help but be influenced by his upbeat attitude and contagious smile.
What they didn’t realize was the immense impact Austin would have after his death, in the lives of people he’d never even met.
Because of Austin, a person in Indiana has a new lung, an 18-year-old college student has a new kidney, a pathologist from South Dakota has a new heart, and many others are also receiving the gift of health.
“They are the benefit from a tragedy,” said Austin’s father, Brock, who lives in the Corcoran/Hamel area.
Austin, 20, died in a motorcycle accident Memorial Day weekend in 2009. He was driving a friend’s bike on Highway 55 near the Plymouth/Medina border, when something caused him to lose control and crash.
He was airlifted to the hospital, where his family was told the shocking, painful news: Austin wouldn’t make it.
The “silver lining” came from Austin’s prior decision to be an organ donor.
“I don’t think Austin realized how many people’s lives would be changed,” said Austin’s stepmother, Lois.
A St. Paul-based organ and tissue donation company called LifeSource handled the entire process.
“The have a very remarkable team of medical staff,” Lois said.
Lives were saved
A few months after the accident, Austin’s mother, Janell Anderson (who lives in Kentucky), received a letter from LifeSource with a brief report on each organ recipient.
Janell wrote a letter to each person, and included a photo of Austin carrying a guitar on his back. She wasn’t given the names or addresses of the recipients, so all correspondence was handled by LifeSource.
A while later, Janell received a card from the heart recipient. His name was Larry, and he was a pathologist in South Dakota. Through a little online research, Janell found a feature story about Larry Alexander in his hometown paper in Aberdeen.
Meanwhile, Larry and his wife, Kelly, had also been searching for a way to contact Austin’s family. Janell received a Facebook message from Kelly, and the families corresponded through cards, photographs, phone calls, and text messages.
In November, Janell and the Alexanders met in person for the first time an emotional, tear-jerking experience.
Brock and Lois weren’t there, but someday they would love to meet Larry, as well as the other donation recipients.
According to an article in the Kentucky New Era, Larry, who is still recovering from the heart transplant, feels overwhelmed and sometimes guilty about having a young man’s heart. He wrestles with questions like, why did he live and Austin die?
Knowing that part of Austin is alive in someone else’s life has been a blessing for Austin’s family, however.
“This way, Austin lives on, not just in our memories,” Brock said.
Those memories are still quite strong, though, more than a year after his death.
“We talk and think about Austin every single day,” Lois said.
She and Brock planted a garden in his honor, and when the wind chimes sound, they pause to remember his life.
They smile as they recall the little things.
“Austin was 6’ 5” and 152 pounds. He was like a straw,” Lois said. “Whenever I needed something from the top cupboard, he would stand and reach it right out.”
At Delano High School, Austin took part in track and field and played basketball, making friends wherever he went.
“Austin was a talker,” Brock said. “He knew a lot of people and had a vast amount of friends. He was upbeat and happy all the time.”
After graduation, he attended the University of Wisconsin-Stout for retail merchandising.
“For a guy, he was a clothes hound,” Lois said. “His first year in college, he brought 80 t-shirts. He used to change clothes just to go out to the mailbox in case someone saw him.”His favorite stores were Hollister, Abercrombie, and The Buckle. Before he died, he bought blue jeans with a lifetime warranty.
“We buried him in his lifetime guarantee pants,” Brock said.
Each year, LifeSource provides organ donor families to get together to remember their loved ones and the precious gifts they generously gave to others.
“It’s so fulfilling, enlightening, and emotional,” Brock said. “Your loved one gave the gift of life to people.”
“We miss and grieve Austin in different ways,” Lois added. “Life Source helps you through this process.”
To learn more about LifeSource, go to www.life-source.org.