Kaylie Jackson always wanted to help others and save lives.
Her lifesaving journey started with a tragic crash in Monroe involving four teens headed to prom.
Tanner Allford, one of the teens in the car, remembers the crash.
“I blacked out. When I came to I was like shocked. It was our worst nightmare,” Allford said.
Kaylie, or Kayles as her family affectionately called her, was two weeks away from graduating, planning to go to Ohio State University to fulfill her dream of becoming a surgeon.
Her friend Tara Morris took pictures with her just before the crash.
“We were taking pictures together. We saw Mitchell and Kaylie and they came running up to us and we took pictures, but they were running late for dinner,” Morris said.
Kaylie and her friends never made it to prom. Her prom pictures with Morris were among her last.
She was thrown out of the back seat of this 2013 Tesla.
The driver and the other two passengers in the car were released from the hospital.
Kaylie became unresponsive.
This marked the beginning of one of the toughest decisions Kaylie’s family would ever make.
“She is gone. So I am trying to put my mind around that and know that what is going on. She is not there, it is just her body,” her aunt Ashley Snyder said.
Melissa Holliday, organ operations director for Life Center, said the initial decision can be tough on families.
“That can be sometimes confusing for families because they are told their loved ones passed away however their loved one is in an ICU room on a ventilator, they are pink, they are warm, their heartbeat can be seen on top a screen,” Holliday said.
“We kind of knew what was going to happen. Even though we didn’t really want to hear it,” Snyder said. “She is going to save a lot of lives. Unfortunately, due to something that shouldn’t have happened.”
Kaylie’s grandfather had two kidney transplants, gifting her family 13 more years with him.
“When my father received his transplants it was hard for the whole family. Yet we appreciated every second and all the time we had with him,” her uncle, Andrew Garcia said.
Once Kaylie’s family came to grips with her decision to save others, the clock started.
“It is usually about 24 to 36 hours of coordination of efforts,” Holliday said.
The gut-wrenching decision of who will get Kaylie’s gifts rests with Dr. Shimul Shah, chief of transplantation at UC and a medical director for Life Center.
Teams immediately start to review donor history, send off blood tests and check for any infectious diseases that could be passed to the recipient.
“I get the organ offer then we have to decide is an organ suitable for the recipient,” Shah said. “It is a whole team. At the end, I make the final decision.”
Shah says a healthy organ donor can save up to 12 lives.
“A lot of recipients deal with a lot of guilt after the transplant because someone has had to die for them to live or someone gave them the greatest gift of all, but they didn’t get to repay them a thank you and things like that, so it is a whole process.”
As teams continued to find out what Kaylie could give and where her gifts would go, her family received update after update.
“I would say at peace now. Knowing the outcome,” Garcia said. “I wish I could describe it. There probably is a word for it. In terms of being on the receiving end of someone doing the exact same thing that Kaylie is doing. It is one of those things where you don’t know the true extent of what the other person on the other end has gone through to give that gift.”
Her classmates, friends and family continually prayed for her, lining the halls of the hospital for days.
“It is difficult to kind of grasp. As you look back and see everyone who came. They were in the halls they were in the waiting room. Just wanting to know what is going on. It’s humbling,” Garcia said.
As Kaylie gives one of the most honorable gifts possible, her family received one as well.
“We will record their loved one’s heartbeat and we will send that to them in the form of a bear where they can always hear their loved ones,” Holliday said.
A reminder that from tragic loss, arose life, and that Kaylie’s heart was always present.
“I don’t think her legacy is over. It is just beginning,” Garcia said.
Kaylie was a daughter, a niece and a best friend. Soon to be high school graduate, she had hopes of becoming a surgeon.
As her family sat in the ICU, they were sure of one thing, Kaylie wanted to save lives. Around them is the team to make that happen.
“Melissa came in and explained to us the process in a very open way. She emphasized that Kaylie would be respected,” Snyder said.
“You have to die in a certain manner in most situations that allow you to give the gift of life when it comes from organ donation,” Holliday said.
A couple of floors away, you can feel the intense pressure.
Dr. Shah is also racing against the clock
“That is an incredible process. When someone is really healthy, it is amazing how many lives can be touched,” Shah said.
Life Center teams rush to get information as the clock keeps ticking. Each organ has with a timer of its own.
“With heart and lung, typically that time frame is about four hours. With kidneys you have about 24 plus hours to transplant that organ,” Holliday said.
Teams make decision after decision, every second counts, holding dozens of lives in their hands.
“You can give your heart, you can give your lungs, both lungs to different people. You can give your liver and sometimes, if the liver is perfect, then you can split the liver in half and give it to two different folks,” Shah said. “The liver should go to the sickest person on the waiting list, that is determined by the score. Then it goes the next sickest, then the next sickest, then the next sickest. It has nothing to do with how long you have been on the list, where you live, what kind of insurance that you have. It is purely based on the meld score.”
Shah says other organs have other criteria.
Kidneys, pancreas, heart and lungs are matches based on waiting time and genetic matches.
The team at UC Medical Center is one of many. Workers at other hospitals also help
make those matches.
“For instance, I am representing UC Health for liver, kidneys and pancreas. I will do everything in my power to make sure the organs stay here,” Shah said.
Each victory comes with hills and valleys.
“A lot of recipients deal with a lot of guilt after the transplant because someone has had to die for them to live or someone gave them the greatest gift of all, but they didn’t get to repay them a thank you and things like that, so it is a whole process,” Shah said.
All the while, in the ICU, Kaylie’s family waits, finding joy in the midst of their pain.
“Knowing that other people will be able to benefit from the same feeling we had is one of those things where it comes full circle,” Garcia said. “I know that we got 13 good years from somebody else’s gifts. I hope the gifts that Kaylie’s giving gives 13, 15, 20, 25 years if not more.”
As the clock winds down, Kaylie gave eight organs, saved six lives and impacted more than 50 people.
Those who receive her gifts require a lifetime of medical care: before, during and after the operation.
But the important thing is that they get a second chance
Young donors have proved to be pretty important. Nearly 30 donors in our area, 18 years or younger, donated last year.
In 2017, UC Medical Center performed 243 organ transplants, including 123 kidney transplants and 105 liver transplants.
Less than three years after restarting its adult heart transplant program, UC Health has performed 17 heart transplants.
Kaylie’s family wants her legacy to educate and inspire others.