Creating life from tragedy
by The Press and Standard | March 14, 2019 5:00 am
Last Updated: March 13, 2019 at 9:09 am
Sometimes a tragedy for one family can turn into a blessing for another. Such was the case with the death of Jeremy Owen Blewer, a 19-year-old from Yemassee who died a year ago on March 10, 2018. His parents Mia and Jerry, brother Jared, extended family, and friends were devastated by their sudden loss.
What was tragic for Jeremy’s family became a blessing for other families, and ultimately, a blessing for the Blewers. Jeremy was an organ donor and multiple lives were saved. “This past year has been a long hard road of grief for our family,” said his aunt, Heather Sullivan of Summerville. “Because of Jeremy’s choice to donate life, however, Mia, Jerry and Jared have taken comfort in knowing that Jeremy was able to make a difference in so many lives by actually saving lives.”
Less than a month after Jeremy died, the Blewers received a letter from Sharing Hope SC, the organ procurement organization for the state, describing the people whose lives Jeremy was able to impact: A 57-year-old commercial crabber in South Carolina who had been on the transplant list since 2017 received a left kidney and pancreas, a 37-year-old married father of two children in South Carolina got a new right kidney, a 16-year-old girl in Tennessee received Jeremy’s liver, a 65-year-old Pennsylvania man received his heart, and a 68-year-old Florida man had a double lung transplant, thanks to Jeremy and the Blewers.
Five lives saved by the 2017 Colleton County High School graduate who grew up hunting and fishing on Big Survey Plantation. In addition, multiple lives have been impacted and improved through donations of other tissues: skin, blood vessels, bone and connective tissue.
“Sharing Hope gave us the option of receiving communication from the recipients’ families. We really hoped some would choose to write to us. Many people who have received life-saving transplants resulting from the death of another person have ‘survivors guilt.’ They don’t know what to say. I can imagine that would be hard to write to someone who has lost a loved one and you have gained something from that tragedy, but receiving those letters was truly a gift for us,” said Mia. So far, the Blewers have received letters from two of the five: the man in Pennsylvania and the man in Florida. (See sidebar.)
In 30 short minutes, three people are added to the national transplant list where approximately 120,000 people in the U.S. and over 1,000 in South Carolina are waiting for a life-saving transplant. Twenty-two of those people will die today before receiving one, according to Sharing Hope SC. A single donation can make an enormous difference, both to the donor’s family and the recipient.
Not long before he died, his mother Mia said, “This feeling came over me and I told him ‘Some day you’re going to help people, Jeremy. I have a feeling you are going to help a lot of people.’” She just didn’t think that day would come so soon.
Knowing his donation has saved so many people has helped with the grief. “You have no idea how much it’s really helped me. Every day that I miss my son, I remember that others are able to continue living because of his donation. It’s so important that people consider becoming donors and register! It is easy to do and it’s such an important gift,” Mia said.
Jeremy’s death and the hard work of the team at Sharing Hope SC inspired
Heather to do a fundraiser for Sharing Hope in honor of Jeremy. “I learned a lot when she did that fundraiser,” Mia said. “I think his heart was in flight to Pennsylvania before I left MUSC that night that Jeremy passed away. It is just amazing — as I’m driving home, his organs are being flown to people who need them. It was very, very touching — the whole thing.”
Heather spent some time reading about how the transplant process works. “When you read how it works, your jaw drops. I had no idea how crucial time is in getting these organs to these patients and how fast it happens. Organ procurement organizations and the UNOS work 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Organs are flown in inclement weather, regardless of the dangers to the pilots and flight crew. These people don’t stop and put other people’s lives above their own every day. It is incredible,” she said.
Sharing Hope works with over 60 hospitals in S.C. Currently, 1,151 people in South Carolina are awaiting transplants to save their lives. When someone dies and is an organ donor, their information goes into a computer linked to the national United Network for Organ Sharing (unos.org) in Virginia.
Jeremy’s death has been hard for those he left behind. “It’s been very hard for all of us,” said Heather. “His brother, Jared, lost his only sibling and best friend. My sister’s been very strong and so has my brother-in-law, but grief is hard, hard work. Losing a child is every parent’s worst nightmare. He was a great kid, a happy kid. He was handsome, sweet, smart and funny and was such a blessing to our family. To see that he’s given life to so many, we know that he has blessed those families as well, and that’s special,” she said
For information on organ donation, visit sharinghopesc.org or unos.org.
Dear Donor: You changed my life
From recipient #1
Today is the fifth-month anniversary of my heart transplant. My family and I decided it was time to let your family know how much we are grateful for your precious gift you’ve given to us.
I’ve been healthy and have taken care of my body all my life, but having parents who both died of heart problems. I knew I would be at risk. I had a heart attack and, after unsuccessful bypass surgery, the only hope I had was a heart transplant.
After being in and out of the hospital for five months and waiting in the hospital for 11 weeks, our prayers were answered.
My wife and two children, along with our church family, were very supportive during this time.
I am now in cardiac rehab and, besides medication adjustments, am doing well.
I just wanted to express my gratitude to your family for giving me another chance at life and will continue to take care of this wonderful gift.
From recipent #2:
I would like to start by letting you know that you, and my angel donor, are always present in my prayers.
I am happily married, and have three children, two boys and one girl. I am an attorney at law and take part in board meetings, as well as legal committees in companies.
I like sports very much and have played soccer in high school and then tennis and badminton, also swimming.
When I was told I had fibrosis, I continued working and going to my office as a way of staying physically active, and I believe this helped me a lot with this complicated surgery.
My feelings: God bless my donor and you for this second opportunity of life. Furthermore, a great [connection] with my donor, assuming the responsibility to take care of his legacy and with that, I am following the advice and recommendations of the transplant medical team.
What I will do: Listen and advice of one of the doctors of the team: “Do everything you were unable to do in the past, and now can.” I have a beautiful family. Without their help, I would not be able to go through with all this process or achieve what I have so far. I will continue my activities but I will enjoy a lot more what I have, and due to a wrong order of priorities, were not first on my list.
How will I achieve it: This last year, because my health status started to decline, I started to prepare a successor, who is performing a good job. I will spend my time to specific problems (because of my experience) and will continue to participate as a board member. This will allow me to have more time for my wife and family, enjoy our time together and continue playing sports as a way of taking care of myself and as a hobby of mine.
Thank God, my post-surgery is going well, and I started exercising again. I am doing stationary bike for one hour and exercises with resistance to get my legs and arms stronger.
I have been extensive in this letter, but I wanted to share with you my life project and wanted to let you know how I will make it happen.
I would like to finish by sharing with you the prayer that gave me the strength and that allows me today to give you my testimony: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; Courage to change the things I can; and Wisdom to know the difference.
“The peace of God rest upon you.”