As Lucille Burke stood in the intensive care unit of Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, she saw the results on the monitor showing her son's vital statistics. She predicted that her son, Evan Burke, would not recover from his injuries after being struck by a car. The accident occurred while he was skateboarding onto the bike path off South Mountain Avenue in Ashland on March 6, 2005.
Once Evan Burke could no longer breathe on his own, the Burkes knew what Evan would want them to do.
"I told them to take as much as they could because he didn't need them anymore," Lucille Burke said.
At first, the medical staff were skeptical as to which organs would be viable as transplants.
"Sometimes you see on TV programs the hospital staff waiting in the wings, but that was not really the case," Jim Burke, Evan's father, said.
Evan's sister, Jocelyn Burke, a medical student at Brown University in Providence, R.I., knew well the concerns of the hospital staff.
"Initially, his organs went into shock," she said. "His heart was bruised, so his heart muscle wasn't contracting the way it was supposed to, and one kidney was lacerated."
"I knew that I could insist that he be an organ donor, even though they were less than excited about the prospect because he was bleeding internally," Lucille Burke said. She asked the staff to give Evan some time to allow his organs to stabilize.
Evan's organs did recover, and his heart, liver, and one kidney were used to save three persons' lives. Through an eye and tissue bank, Evan's corneas were transplanted, granting two people sight.
During the Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena, Calif., on New Year's Day, Evan and 37 other donors will be honored with the Donate Life float. This year's float is called "Stars of Life." The float consists of brightly colored stars, with the face of each donor depicted in the form of a flora graph.
According to Rose Parade officials, flora graphs are life-like portraits created with organic materials like rice, nuts and flowers. The Donate Life float will carry more than 1,000 roses with personal messages of love, gratitude and hope.
Lucille Burke and her friend Merrilee Howard flew down to Pasadena the weekend of Dec. 20 to create the flora graph.
"The teeth are ground up rice. The only flowers that I used were in his lips," Lucille Burke said.
Judith Trujillo, program director for Donate Life Northwest, a nonprofit that works on public education in Oregon and southwest Washington, offered the Burkes a place for Evan on the float.
"When I heard about the theme of the float and how Donate Life America was looking at potential honorees as really making a positive difference, to me the Burkes were a natural fit because they have been such active, wonderful volunteers for us," Trujillo said.
The Rose Parade will be broadcast on ABC, NBC and other various expanded cable channels Thursday at 8 a.m.
"It is just one of those stories that kind of unfolds in an amazing way from this horrible thing that happened to someone, and the story continues to grow and unfold," Trujillo said. "I think a lot of it is because of the Burkes and the way that they are honoring Evan's life by impacting so many other people."
Helping those in need
Currently in the United States, nearly 100,000 people are awaiting organ transplants, and 18 people die every day waiting for a transplant, according to Donate Life Northwest.
Donate Life Northwest promotes a new online registry accessible on its Web site, www.donatelifenw.org. The registry allows residents of Oregon and Washington to add their name to the list of available donors.
"You only renew your license every eight years," Trujillo said. "So if you don't have that 'D' on there, you are not going back to the DMV for another eight years, and that is where the registry just becomes gold."
The Burkes felt strongly that Evan would have wanted to donate his organs to save the lives of others and, after returning home from Portland, discovered that Evan indeed had the "D" to designate intent to donate on his driver's license. Aside from that, Lucille Burke remembers having a conversation with Evan wherein he expressed his desire to donate his organs should his life end unexpectedly.
"The reason it is so important to stress is because teenagers think they are immortal," Jocelyn Burke said. "So to think about what you want to happen to you after you die is not something a lot of teenagers want to talk about. But the truth of it is, the young people 18 to 35 years old are most likely to die in ways in which they can be organ donors."
"It is really important to talk to your parents, because kids, they get it, but parents are in so much pain from their child dying," Lucille Burke said. "Because there is nothing worse than to have your child die. It's not the way it's supposed to work."
According to Trujillo, as of January 2008, 15-, 16- and 17-year-olds can now designate a "D" on their driver's licenses and permits.
"That is a huge change, a really exciting important change, and you can sign up online at age 13," Trujillo said. "You can't put an adult male heart into a 3-year-old. The organs have to be the right size."
For information about donating organs, tissue and blood go to www.donatelifenw.org.