Joseph Edward Keller was born on a beautiful Sunday
afternoon, on June 1, 1980. Our 'Little Joey" was the youngest of our
four children. It always seemed
we had the 'perfect' family. A parent's perfect dreams were coming true. It
was the summer of 1994 and Tom & Elizabeth, were out of school, and both
were pursuing their careers. Mike,
an easy going junior in high school, and Joe, our 'baby' being just as easy
going as his brother. Life was finally slowing down a little, only one
baseball practice, instead of four!
On August 18th, 1994, all of that changed. Joe
and four of his friends from school were bored from being stuck in the house
for almost a week. We had a tropical storm come thru the area, and it had
rained for days on end. He and his schoolmates called each other the night
before, and decided they would get together.
We live in the country, so they decided to go for a long bike ride,
stop at their favorite swimming spot, and also do some bridge jumping.
When they were getting ready to come home, one of the girls that was
with them decided to go back in swimming, when she did, she went in on the
lower side of a low-head dam. The hydraulics of the dam pulled her under.
Joe attempted to save the life of his schoolmate. He was not as lucky
as she was. A low-head dam has a mind of it's own, it decides how long to
hold onto whatever it is that it has, and Joe was held under the water too
One of the boys ran to the campground across
the road to call for help, while the owners of the campground came out to
try to help. The paramedics were on the scene shortly. The paramedic that
worked on Joe was my cousin Mark. He tried so hard to save Joe's life that
day, along with the other EMT's, I will be forever grateful to them for
their help. On the way to the hospital, they were finally able to get a
heartbeat on him again. It was touch and go for the next few hours until he
was stable. My husband, Dave, was called at work and told about the
accident, the HR person took him to the hospital to meet Joe. They were
flying Joe, Life Lion from Hanover to York Hospital to be taken care of by
the Trauma Unit.
Most of us arrived at the hospital at the same
time. As we all gathered in
this room, the doctor came in, and told us very bluntly that Joe was not
going to make it. He said they had lost him at the creek, and several times
after that, and he had no chance of making it. I remember sitting there, not
knowing what to say. My son was an expert swimmer, how could that happen?
I asked if he was still alive and he replies yes, and I said, then
there is still hope for him.
We spent those days
sitting with Joe, reading to him, talking to him, or just quietly sitting by
his side, and praying! On
another beautiful Sunday morning, we were told that our son, Joe, had died,
that he was brain dead. I had a problem understanding exactly what that
meant. We shared this with our extended family and friends who had become
our support through all of this, who held a 24-hour vigil at the hospital
The doctor, nurses, Tom & Rick, transplant coordinators, and the
chaplain at the hospital (who happened to be the priest at our church when
Joe was a baby, and had baptized him) met Dave and I at the hospital. They
asked us how we felt about organ donation, and I immediately told them NO!
My husband said yes. I told them it wasn't fair. He had risked his life to
save someone else, and now they were asking for him to give even more!
It just wasn't fair that such a good kid, with
a good future ahead of him should loose his life. As we sat and talked about
Joe, Tom the one coordinator said to me, you know you have told us about
Joe, and he sounded like a great kid who had a heart of gold, wouldn't it be
a shame to loose that, and not be able to share it with someone else? At
that point, I could not agree with him more. After all if he had not had a
heart of gold, we would not have been there, he was always trying to help
When I finally agreed, I told them it had to be
a family decision, that I needed for my kids to be there to agree on it, he
was as much their brother, as much as our son. Finally we came to an
agreement, as a family to donate Joe's heart, kidneys, liver, pancreas, and
skin. We also donated his lungs that could not be transplanted, but were
used for research.
I personally had a problem with my decision, I
knew I had done the right thing, but I was not convinced that I had done
what Joe wanted me to do. After all, we had never talked about organ
donation, and how could I know that I did what he wanted. I usually took a
daily walk, and when I did, I always took the 'short block'.
As I got to the end of the road that day, I found myself turning
right instead of the usual left. As I walked, I passed one of Joe's friend's
homes. It was as if someone was playing an old movie for me. I saw them
playing together, they were six or seven years old. Joe used to fuss over
him like a little mother hen. If
he ate with us, Joe would check to make sure everything was 'good' for him
or set the alarm clock so that he would not forget to take his medicine. At
that moment I recalled this little boy had a liver transplant a few years
before Joe had met him. I remembered my son telling me at a very young age,
that he thought that was the most awesome thing that someone could do for
someone else. It was as if the weight of the world was lifted from my
shoulders. I finally realized that I had done exactly what was right, and
what Joe had wanted also!!! I knew then it was Joe, dragging me that way,
and kicking me in the pants to tell me that I should not worry about it, I
did what he wanted!
We have come along way since August 21, 1994.
Our family has talked about organ donation many times, and I now know
exactly what each of my family members want.
We have all learned a great deal about organ and tissue donation
since Joe's death, I just wish we had known just part of it before he died.
We try hard to talk to as many people as possible about organ and tissue
donation, because we would hope that there every family could make an
educated decision on donation. Our favorite groups to talk to are the young
kids; I talk to many school groups. Dave and I together with a recipient
have talked to a countless amount of Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and Cub Scouts
about organ donation and how important it is to talk to their families, and
also help them to earn their Organ Donor Awareness Patch.
all of this made up for the loss of our son, and brother? No, but nothing
can do that.
But it means that his life and death have had a lot more meaning.
Even after his death he continues to touch the hearts of so many through his
gift of life
In loving Memory of our son, Joseph E. Keller,