On June 6, Granger Smith shared the absolute worst news. His youngest son, River Kelly Smith, had died.
“Following a tragic accident, and despite doctor’s best efforts, he was unable to be revived. Amber and I made the decision to say our last goodbyes and donate his organs so that other children will be given a second chance at life,” Smith had written about his 3-year-old son.
It is a decision that the family made during what was certainly the worst day of their lives. And yet, the decision they made was certainly the best news for other families waiting for organ donations small enough for their own babies and toddlers.
Last year, 1,895 children received transplants. And the year before that, 1,800 children received life-saving transplants. But while the numbers of transplants are increasing, there are still so many children who are waiting, and so many who die before they can get the transplant that will save their lives. There are currently 2,000 children on the national transplant waiting list, and 25 percent of those children are under five years old. Most children ages 1 to 10 are waiting for a kidney, liver and heart. If a baby is born with biliary atresia, he or she will need a liver transplant. If it’s a congenital heart disease, he or she will need a heart. If it’s cycstic fibrosis, he or she will need lungs.
And the transplant list for children is a much different one than the list for adults. Organ size does matter. Because child-sized organs are accepted better in children, matching the donor and recipient’s organs is crucial step in the process.
When one little girl — Juniper, who was waiting for a heart — finally had her life-saving transplant, her parents made a video to reflect on what it meant to them that a family somewhere had made this hard decision on their hardest day. “We think of your child every single day. And we will tell our daughter how our family’s biggest hero is a child we’ve never met,” Juniper’s mom says in the video. “How do we thank a family we’ve never met for saving our child’s life,” her father adds. “She is alive, all because you said yes.”
Like Smith said, River’s death means other children will get a second chance at life. And it could mean that the end for River is a brand new beginning for someone else, and that when one heart breaks, other hearts can heal.
The Smith family is now offering the River Smith Tribute Shirt, in River’s favorite color with a Yee Yee Excavator on the front. “Riv’s favorite thing to do was watch excavators scoop up dirt,” the Yee Yee Apparel post says. All the proceeds from this shirt will go to Dell Childrens Medical Center in Austin, Texas, where River was cared for before he passed away.