Drowning victim's family donates son's organs

Michael Chadbourne also passed away from injuries he suffered trying to save the friend.
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A central Indiana family had many decisions to make after their son died after an attempted water rescue.

Perhaps one of the most generous decisions they made was to donate his organs. Now, 16-year-old Michael Chadbourne's death will give new life to others.

It was a gift, borne of tragedy.

Like the many names that fill the donor wall at the Indiana Organ Procurement Organization, the family of Michael Chadbourne gave a precious gift.

"I can't think of anything better to, at the end of your life, than to donate your organs to people who are in need," said Courtney Tillotta, team leader at IOPO.

In this case, Chadbourne donated the maximum amount of solid organs possible - eight organs to recipients in Indiana and across the country. IOPO says his heart will go to a 14-year-old boy in Iowa. His lungs went to an Indiana woman in her fifties. His liver, pancreas and intestines all went to an Indiana man in his fifties. His kidneys are awaiting organ recipients.

Friends say the Chadbourne died a hero, trying to save his friend from the swollen Big Blue River. But perhaps even more heroic - his family's choice, even in their grief, to give more of their son.

"When you can see families rise above that tragedy and you can see them say, 'Something horrible has happened, I'm devastated by the loss of my loved one, but I'm going to make something positive come out of this situation,' I mean it really honestly, it doesn't get much better than that," Tillotta said.

And it's happened twice in recent high-profile tragedies.

Harry Briggs, the 45-year-old gas station clerk who was shot in a robbery last week, also donated his organs and saved lives.

It's a simple decision that 3.5 million Hoosiers have made, to register as a donor. IOPO says registrations have gone up recently, directly because of these two cases.

"And what an impact does that easy decision have on others," Tillotta said.

Lance Lewis wouldn't be here today, without it. Three-and-a-half years ago, he received a double lung transplant from another hero - IMPD officer David Moore, who died in the line of duty, then gave life to Lewis.

"Organ donation saved my life. It works. I'm living proof of that," Lewis said. "Life is just amazing after having received a transplant. I walked in the very first Show Us Your Heart 5k that IOPO put on. That was only four months after my transplant."

There are many stories of survival, all from the choice to donate organs.

"The message to donors is simply, 'Thank you'," Lewis said, "Because of them, we're here to continue our lives, to see our children grow, our grandchildren grow."

Now, another name will go on the wall at IOPO - a young man who lives on in others.

"His family chose to make something positive come from his death," Tillotta said.

Right now, there are 1,500 Hoosiers awaiting organ transplants and more than 120,000 nationwide.

It is easy to become a donor. You can do so when you get your license or ID at the BMV. You can also register online through iopo.org.

IOPO says it's also important to tell your family about your decision, so they know your wishes. Between organ and tissue donation, just one donor has the potential of helping at least 75 people in need.

Learn how to become an organ donor.