Many families of organ, tissue and eye donors say they carry a part of their loved one with them wherever they go. For Jackie Pische, that is both figuratively and literally true – she is a recipient of her son’s tissue, which was used to make a bone graft for her spinal surgery.
Jackie’s son Josh Richards, 25, died after he was shot at an Appleton nightclub in December 2013. He was registered as a donor, and his organs saved seven different recipients. His tissue was sent to a facility to be preserved. While organs must be placed immediately, tissue – such as bone, skin, veins and heart valves – has a longer preservation time and can help change someone’s life years after being donated.
Jackie underwent spinal surgery five days before Josh died, but it did not work. Several months later, she and her doctor agreed she needed an anterior lumbar fusion, but she was grieving and stalled the surgery as long as she could. Finally, her doctor and nurses convinced her to schedule the surgery.
While Jackie was attending a memorial event, she casually mentioned that she would be interested in some of Josh’s tissue. A representative from the tissue bank went to work to make it happen. Jackie received the tissue during her surgery at the end of August. The surgery and recovery have gone very well, she says. “I’ve got Josh’s tissue. How can you mess that up?”
An Organ Donation Advocate
Since losing her son, Jackie has become quite visible in the organ, tissue and eye donation community. In February, she and a group of family and friends created the Joshua J. Richards Charitable Foundation to increase awareness of, and raise funds for, organ donation. The foundation also raises funds for children who do not have the means to participate in sports or extracurricular activities – an effort Josh would have heartily supported, as he was an avid athlete and gym enthusiast. It has sponsored two events so far – a Poker Run motorcycle ride and a golf outing.
“Josh did everything right,” says Jackie. “He paid his bills, went to the gym every day, was a good friend and volunteered. He was just that kind of good guy. What happened to Josh did not make sense, but his decision to be an organ donor did make sense.”
Jackie has found comfort in her correspondence with Josh’s organ recipients. She has built a relationship over the phone with his heart recipient, who had developed a blood clot and would have died if he had not received Josh’s heart. And she has also been in contact with his lung recipient, whose 7-year-old grandson asked friends and family to donate to the foundation rather than give him birthday gifts. He collected a total of $600.
“After we lost Josh,” says Jackie, “I had a choice: I could focus on something bad and how he left us, or I could do something good. Everything that has happened has been so healing. The recipients, hospital staff and organ donation staff probably saved us more than they know.”