Published On: Thu, Apr 27th, 2017

Area family shares organ donation story

LAUREL — On Oct. 28, 1978, Tom and June Erwin shared their vows of “for richer, or for poorer, in sickness and in health until death do us part.”
As newlyweds overwhelmed in wedding bliss, little did they know that their vows would be taken to the highest mountain ever climbed — not once but twice.
Tom and June were a farm family, devoted to doing the work of the Lord. They raised four children, Wyatt, Blake, Tiffany (Plager) and Heath.  They were busy with the farm life, children’s activities and church when one day in November of 2004 June became ill.
June was diagnosed with Hepatitis C, a disease of the liver that physicians assume she contracted from a needle stick years ago when she was working as a nurse in California.
According to Mayo Clinic, Hepatitis C is a viral infection that effects the liver.  Half of the people in the United States that have the disease don’t even know they have it because it has no symptoms and takes decades to show up.
Hepatitis C is only spread through contaminated blood.  Until recently, hepatitis C treatment wasn’t a success due to people having health problems and unacceptable side effects.
That is what happened to June. She became highly allergic to the medication she was receiving for treatment.
The hope to save her life was to receive a liver transplant.
Twenty-one people die daily waiting for a life-saving organ on the organ transplant list, never receiving their only wish in life.
In the fall of 2006, June became critically ill and in January 2007, June was put on the organ transplant list to wait, count every day as a blessing, praying for a liver to be donated to save her life.
Information from Organdonor.gov, 119,000 people are waiting on the transplant list holding on to life and waiting for someone to die and for their family to donate their organs to save a life.
To save a life, someone must die.  When one person passes away and their organs are donated, eight lives can be saved.  Just like Jesus had to die to save our lives, the Erwin’s knew this had to happen.
On Feb. 23, 2007, June received the phone call she and her family had been patiently waiting for.  They had a liver for her and a two-year-old.  They were going to split the liver.  June received her liver, had some complications and spent three months in the hospital.  “After I left the hospital, it has been an uphill ride and 10 wonderful years,” June explained.
It was Dec. 18, 2014, a typical day on the farm.
Tom was outside working.  Tiffany had come home to visit.  Tom had a farming accident and hit his head on the hard, frozen ground.  He was taken to the hospital, he lived a few days.
June remembers, “One day he walked out the door and he never came back.”
Tom was an organ donor.  Tiffany said.
“Just because you have organ donor marked on your license, you still need to tell your family your wishes because they have to make the decision for you,” she said.  “That is something not everyone knows.”
The family was able to donate Tom’s kidneys and liver.
“My dad was a very selfless person and hard worker.” “He loved his Lord and family.”  Tiffany reflected. “We were excited to do it for someone else.” “We remember being on that side of it,” June said.
Tom is so remembered by his love of basketball and coaching children in the community.  Even in his passing, by his family donating his organs, he was able to help others to live longer.

”Tom and my Dad went to high school together. I always enjoyed them talking about their basketball days. They were good, something about that era.  Hard work, dedication and respect for others wasn’t expected, it was just part of Tom and my Dad’s personality. Tom would be found Saturday mornings helping with summer rec basketball league. He never lost the passion for the game. He expected hard work, dedication, and we had to work on those FUNDAMENTALS!! BOX OUT! JUMP! Even years later as I became an adult, I was walking across the street and Tom was talking to another man. He just wasn’t talking, he was very animated. He was jumping and looking like he was boxing out. I went up to him and said, “well that took me back to Saturday morning practice.” We laughed but what I took away was he never lost his drive for the love of the game and even expected the same excitement and determination from the youth of today. Tom was one of the good ones taken to soon.  A good Christian man who wasn’t afraid to talk about his love of Christ and what He (Christ) can do in your life. He loved his family and raised a great one at that,“ remembers Melissa Smith-Graham.
April is National Donate Life Month which is an entire month dedicated to encouraging people to register to organ, eye and tissue donors and to celebrate the people and their families that made the choice to give the gift of life to others even in a time of loss.
The Erwin’s unselfishly chose to give the gift of life to numerous families during their tragic loss of their loved one.
The Bible says it best in Tiffany’s favorite verse. Romans 15:13  May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Trusting him is exactly what Tom did and his family does today.

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