May 1, 2012 10:40 PM by Maddie Garrett

Teen Organ Donation: Through a Mother's Eyes

Becoming an organ donor can be an important decision for any adult, but it's an even bigger decision for teens. Two Opelousas teens made that choice a few weeks ago, right before a deadly car accident. Opelousas Catholic High School students Sarah Jarrell and Morgan Adams have now impacted many in Acadiana, after giving the gift of life.

Their story hits home for another Acadiana mother, who lost her son 15 years ago. Libbie Harrison's son Justin was only 15 years old when he died in an accident. But a year before, Justin told his mom he wanted to be an organ donor, after his grandfather died while waiting for a heart transplant.

"He said momma, if more people knew about donation papaw would still be alive, not enough people know about it. We've got to make people talk about it," said Harrison.

Justin did get people talking, only not in the way his mother had ever predicted. She still remembers the night he died.

"And then they basically told us that Justin wasn't going to survive. We were in the ICU and I mean you just hit your knees and you start praying and you start begging, and I made so many deals with God that night," she recalled.

Justin was brain dead, and that's when his decision to be a donor came full circle.

"But even knowing it's what Justin wanted, knowing that my dad died waiting, it was still a hard decision to make, because I knew nothing," said Harrison.

A representative from Louisiana Organ Procurement Agency (LOPA) helped Harrison through the process, assuring her they could still have an open casket and that Justin would be treated with great care. Justin went on to save five people's lives and gave two people sight.

"His heart's still beating, and it's almost 15 years. Transplants aren't experiments, they save lives," said Harrison.

His heart saved Marilyn Thorn, now a close friend of the Harrison family said Harrison, "She has been priceless, she's just so incredibly worthy of that sweet heart. She hasn't wasted one minute."

But Justin didn't just save five lives, after his death Libbie started volunteering for LOPA and now works there as a Family Services Coordinator. She continues sharing Justin's story in hopes of helping others.

"So we started giving presentations in schools and in churches and it started working. And people started registering on the donor registry and people started talking about it and more people started saying yes and more lives were saved," said Harrison. "And I thought ok, pretty profound words from a 15 year old, just make people talk about it."

You can find out more about organ donation on LOPA's website:

There are almost 113,000 people in the United States waiting for an organ transplant. Of those waiting, 1,370 are Louisiana residents.



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