On one painful day in January, a life was lost while another was saved.
Tracy Driscoll had died from a brain aneurysm. The 41-year-old mother of three loved Facebook, updating her status multiple times throughout the day, posting pictures and using it to keep in touch with friends near and far. She was known for her generous spirit and her love for her dog.
And Driscoll emphasized the importance of organ donation to her family and friends. After her death, her children decided to honor her request and donate her organs.
That decision has forever linked Driscoll’s family and Franklin resident Kirby Cochran. He had been waiting on the organ donation list after lupus destroyed his liver. He got a new organ from Driscoll.
HOW TO BECOME A DONOR
To register to be an organ donor, go to indianalastwishregistry.org and fill out the required form. Potential donors will need to have their driver’s license number or Social Security number to complete registration.
People also can register to be a donor at any Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles location.
What can be recovered?
Kidneys, liver, heart and valves, lungs, pancreas, intestines, bones, veins, corneas, islet cells, tendons
Who can be an organ donor?
Anyone up to age 80 is a candidate for donation.
Information from the Indiana Organ Procurement Organization
The bond that was forged has been solidified during the past four months. The families have met multiple times, shared hugs and tears and used each other as support in an emotionally unstable time.
“It’s not closure, because you don’t get over something like this. But it’s amazing. She lives on in him. There’s still a part of her we can hold on to,” said Haleigh Mann, Driscoll’s 20-year-old daughter.
The two families have joined together to stress the importance of organ donation. They’ve worked with the Indiana Organ Procurement Organization to provide an example of how, even in a time of tragedy, the decision to donate can have a positive impact.
“She always wanted to help people. She ultimately got to do that through organ donation,” said Kayla Mann, Driscoll’s 18-year-old daughter. “Giving life to someone is better than her laying there with it.”
On a cloudy Saturday in May, Driscoll’s family met the man who was alive thanks to their mother’s gift.
The two families spent hours together. They traveled to Falls Cemetery in Wabash to visit Driscoll’s grave, releasing balloons in a symbolic celebration of her life. The headstone had been erected that morning, and it was the first time her children had seen it in place.
Conversations lingered long into the afternoon.
“What struck me were the emotions on both sides. (Cochran and his family) told me about the day they got the call that a liver had been found, and how they weren’t able to focus. They were more focused on the loss and what we were feeling and going through, even though they didn’t know us,” Haleigh Mann said. “It was so selfless and made me realize what kind of people they are.”
Cochran, a deputy for the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office, has been battling lupus for 10 years. The autoimmune disease left him fatigued, attacked his joints and ultimately destroyed his liver.
He had been on the transplant list for months when he received a phone call from the Indiana Organ Procurement Organization that a match had been found.
‘She always helped people’
Even in the rush of getting to IU Health University Hospital in time for his surgery, he grieved for whoever had died in order for him to get a liver.
Driscoll’s death Jan. 7 shook the family, Haleigh Mann said. Her loved ones were too stunned to think about anything, let alone the decision on organ donation.
Luckily, Driscoll had started the dialogue before her death.
At the hospital, representatives from the procurement organization approached Justin and Haleigh Mann to discuss organ donation. Knowing their mother’s wishes, they agreed.
“My grandma was a little iffy about it, because it would make the whole thing real. But she would have wanted this. She always helped people and made it important to let people know donation was something they should do,” Haleigh Mann said.
At the time of the transplant surgery, Cochran was given only basic information about his donor. He knew only that it was a 41-year-old woman.
In all of its transplants, the procurement organization serves as a go-between for donor families and patients to reach each other. The decision to get in contact has to be agreed by both sides.
Often, patients write a letter expressing their thanks and explaining a little bit about themselves. Cochran did that soon after his surgery, hoping his donor’s family would accept it.
Driscoll’s family had been looking forward to hearing from the people whom she had helped.
“We thought it would give us some closure but to also celebrate her life, that she was still living on,” Haleigh Mann said. “Through his letter, we found out what kind of man Kirby was, and we thought that a better person couldn’t have received it.”
In addition to her liver, her kidneys were transplanted in two other patients. But the family has not yet heard from them.
‘It was pretty powerful’
At first, the communication was through e-mail, letters and over the phone. But in May, the families devised a way to get together. Kayla Mann, Driscoll’s youngest child, was graduating from Wabash High School at the end of the month.
Driscoll’s mother, Judy Driscoll, asked if Cochran and his family could visit and surprise them at the graduation party.
On the day of the party, May 25, Judy Driscoll told her granddaughters there was a surprise for them. When Cochran and his family showed up, months of emotions poured out.
“It was pretty powerful. As soon as I saw him, I knew and started crying. We were both shaking the whole time,” Haleigh Mann said.
Because of Driscoll’s tragic death, the families have been joined together permanently. Haleigh and Kayla Mann all text Cochran daily, and phone calls are frequent between them.
In June, they gathered in Indianapolis for the annual Show Us Your Heart 5K, a fundraiser for the Indiana Organ Procurement Organization.
“It brought us closer together. We walked and talked the whole time, and we talked about my mom,” Haleigh Mann said. “It was a celebration of everything. We have a new family now; it’s just an extended family.”
Cochran still struggles with the cruel reality of organ donation, knowing that in order for him to survive a tragedy had to hit Driscoll and her family.
“I have to be strong for them and for myself and for their mother,” he said. “People always said, ‘It’s the ultimate gift.’ It’s way beyond that. If not for her, I wouldn’t be here.”