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Column - Remembering the most gracious gift

January 27, 2006 started out just like any other day. Little did I know it was the day that would change my life. The report of a four-wheeler accident over the scanner that evening didn't strike me as out of the ordinary. It was winter and it wa...

January 27, 2006 started out just like any other day. Little did I know it was the day that would change my life.

The report of a four-wheeler accident over the scanner that evening didn't strike me as out of the ordinary. It was winter and it wasn't the first ice accident, nor would it be the last. I said a prayer for the injured man and the emergency personnel and then went back to my evening routine.

When Monday morning came around, my reporter instincts kicked into autopilot as I made the appropriate phone calls searching for information on the accident victim. The 51-year-old man had rolled his four-wheeler on Lake Osakis. He wasn't wearing a helmet and was in critical condition with severe head injuries. After gathering the facts, I typed up the story in time to make the newspaper deadline. It seemed appropriate to say a silent prayer for the man and his family before gathering up my things and heading home for a late lunch.

Fast-forward to later that afternoon when my sister called to say dad was on his way to the Twin Cities. There was a possibility he'd be getting his long-awaited lung transplant. Since we'd been warned there could be multiple "dry runs" - trips to the hospital that ended without a transplant - I said I'd get ready and wait for more news. By nightfall, I was on my way to the hospital. It looked like there was a match and it was time to hurry up and wait.

Doctors at Fairview Medical Center removed my dad's damaged lungs and replaced them with a healthy set of new lungs during the night of January 30. They were also able to repair a heart defect, undetectable until they opened up his chest and saw it.

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We talked many times throughout the night wondering where the lungs had come from and were told only that the doctor had flown somewhere to perform the surgery. Organ donation is completely confidential so there was no way we'd get any more information than that. Our only way to say thank you was to write anonymous letters that would be forwarded to the family through the transplant center.

That next Christmas, the best present of all wasn't under the tree. It was the gift of sharing another holiday with a father, grandfather and now newlywed - yes, thanks to this anonymous donor, my dad got married less than six months after his surgery. Somewhere else, a woman and her children, facing their first Christmas without their loved one, received a remarkable gift as well.

According to my dad, Mary Jo Morales was so happy when she got his holiday letter she called everyone she knew, elated that her husband had saved a life. She said it was the most marvelous thing that had ever happened.

Notice any connection? Yes, my dad received a second chance at life from Rodrigo Morales, the man who rolled his four-wheeler on Lake Osakis.

How can I thank Mary Jo and her family for all they have given to us? The best way I know is to treat each and every extra moment with my dad as a gift. Because of their generosity, my children still have their "Grampy Johnson." Thanks to them, my dad continues to thrive, living each day to its fullest potential. We pray daily for the Morales family that they find joy and contentment in the memories of the man they loved so very much.

We will celebrate the two-year anniversary of dad's lung transplant January 30. On that day my children will release two balloons - one representing the last breath of air that Rodrigo Morales gave, and the first breath their grandpa received from his new lungs.

So many are caught in the grief of the loss of their loved one, the thought of donating their organs isn't even a consideration.

To all of those who have shared these beautiful gifts I thank you ever so graciously. I know first-hand that your loved one lives on in the most precious way and hope you will soon be able to find peace.

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