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Organ donation brings families closer together, closer to God

Kristene Rose was at the Walmart in Rexburg, Idaho, buying dog food when she got the devastating call. Her husband, Jeremy, who was thousands of miles away on a construction site in Hawaii, had been in an accident and lay unconscious with no promise of waking up.

"The next thing I knew, Jeremy's mom was picking me up," she said. "We flew out that night and got there at 8 in the morning, where he was already brain-dead."

Devastated, Rose sat next to her husband, who was hooked up to several machines, praying he would come back.

Meanwhile, Rose's longtime friend Rob Parkinson sat helpless at his desk at work in Rexburg.

Jeremy Rose was not only a perfect friend and neighbor, but also a perfect match to Parkinson's failing liver. Parkinson was diagnosed with primary sclerosing cholangitis in 1994, and after 16 years of suffering, his health was wearing down.

Over those years, five of Parkinson’s immediate family members had stepped up to be tested as live donors, but every test came back negative. He and his family had accepted defeat. So, weak and terrified to leave behind his wife and seven children, Parkinson was overwhelmed by Kristene Rose's decision to make her husband's last living act to give life to Parkinson.

“The gift of life is one of the greatest Christlike things a person can do,” Parkinson said. “It’s almost always a tragic situation, and for her to take a few minutes when the world was falling in on her to think about someone else during that time, it’s overwhelming.”

However, experience had taught Parkinson and his wife Tracey to have little hope that the donation would come through. The liver needed to travel to Utah from Hawaii, a journey rarely, if ever, successful. But by some miracle, the liver made it to Salt Lake City, and Parkinson went into surgery Jan. 24, 2010.

“Before the surgery, we tried to decide what to do, and we knew there were no other options,” Tracey Parkinson said, adding that her husband’s health had declined drastically over those last few months. “We said, 'We either face it today or we face it two months from now.’ So we decided to try it.”

But the surgery wasn’t smooth sailing, and as Tracey Parkinson sat in the waiting room she prepared for the worst.

“The liver should have been placed by midnight, and at 3 a.m. they told me it still wasn’t in place,” Tracey Parkinson said. “I came unglued. I was fully prepared it wasn’t going to work. It was after four hours of trying to gain peace when the doctors walked out and said the liver was placed and everything was functioning.”

After nearly two decades of overwhelming responsibilities, grief for the future and careful planning, the Parkinsons couldn’t fathom how life was going to play out. And now, a year and a half after the surgery, the family is still getting used to the change.

“We’ve all unwound over the past year, especially our younger sons,” Tracey Parkinson said. “They’ve only known their father when he’s sick and they’re saying, 'Is this really dad?’”

It was an exhausting 16 years for the Parkinsons, without a moment to breathe easily, but in exchange for the burdens and heartache, the family rallied together and turned to the Lord for support.

“There were so many people involved that is was absolutely no question it was a miracle,” Tracey Parkinson said. “I wish our children didn’t have as much of the burden, but I wouldn’t take away what they’ve become. We still feel like it was an amazing preparation time in our lives that we couldn’t have had the experience we did in any other way.”

The Parkinsons weren’t the only family spiritually feeding from the miracle. Kristene Rose, despite the sudden loss of her husband, said she saw the Lord’s hand hard at work.

“It’s brought me much closer to God,” she said during the months it took her to figure out God's will for the new direction in her life.

The lives of the Roses and Parkinsons are now intricately intertwined, and as both families look back on the experience, they are stunned at the miracle of organ donations.

“If I were placed in that situation, I would hope I could be as unselfish as Kristene,” Rob Parkinson said. “Sign up to donate, just because it changes lives. My life is different, my wife’s life is different because she has a husband, and my children’s lives are different because they have a dad.”