Parents of organ donor: Even in death she still makes a difference

Parents of organ donor: Even in death she still makes a difference

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Mandy Harrell (source: Harrell family photo) Mandy Harrell (source: Harrell family photo)
David and Betsy Harrell were faced with an agonizing decision to donate Mandy's organs and tissue. David and Betsy Harrell were faced with an agonizing decision to donate Mandy's organs and tissue.
Transplant Coordinator Ginger McIntosh was one of the first with Tennessee Donor Services to talk with the family. Transplant Coordinator Ginger McIntosh was one of the first with Tennessee Donor Services to talk with the family.

By LORI TUCKER
6 News Anchor/Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - Mandy Harrell was a freshman at Pellissippi State Community College when her life was cut short on Labor Day, 2006.

The petite 18-year-old said she wanted to be a special education teacher.

She had represented Knox County in the Junior Miss program.

Mandy had a beautiful singing voice and sang in the choir at St. John's Episcopal Church in downtown Knoxville.

She was close to her family, especially her younger brother, Matthew.

On the day she died, Mandy, her boyfriend and their best friend set out for an off-roading adventure on Windrock Mountain in Anderson County.

The boys had overhauled an old truck for off-roading, but the truck broke down in the mud midway through their ride.

Mandy called her mother, Betsy Harrell, and told her, "I think this might be the best day of my life."

Mandy promised she would call when they got to the bottom of the trail, but the call never came.

For some reason, Mandy and her friends strapped themselves into the truck and decided to coast down the mountain the rest of the way.

Mandy's parents say the truck went out of control off the gravel trail, flipped, and literally flew off the side of the mountain and landed in a ravine.

All three were ejected from the vehicle and badly hurt, but Mandy suffered severe head injuries. She was the only one who did not survive.

The Harrells got a phone call from one of  the boys' parents about the accident. As Mandy was being flown by Lifestar to UT Medical Center, they rushed to the hospital.

They were told that Mandy was still breathing, her heart was still beating, but her brain injuries were irreparable and she would not survive.

Within 24 hours, Mandy was dead.


A difficult decision

In that short time, the Harrells were faced with what is for many an agonizing decision: Should they donate her organs to help someone else live?

Mandy's grandfather, known to her as "Poppy," had undergone a heart and kidney transplant in 1995. From that the family was all too familiar with the process of organ donation.

They asked for Tennessee Donor Services.

Transplant Coordinator Ginger McIntosh was one of the first with Tennessee Donor Services to talk with the family.

"Organ donation is such a personal decision," Betsy Harrell said. "My daughter, only 4 feet 11 and 7/8's inches tall, had a big personality. This tiny little thing that lived every minute of her 18 years she was here on this earth, and even in death she still makes a difference. That, to me, makes her death matter just a little bit more."

Mandy's father, David Harrell, says at first he was uncomfortable making a decision about donating his daughter's organs, as well as tissue and bone.

"We see ourselves as protectors of our family," David said. "And when suddenly something happens and we weren't able to do that, the tendency is immediately to want to try to shield what we can that's still there. In that case, that was about some questions regarding tissue donation."

"After stepping back, absolutely, I was good with it," he added.

By donating Mandy's organs and tissue, Tennessee Donor Services says, between 50 and 100 people were helped.


First meeting

Until now, nearly four years after her death, the Harrells have not been ready to meet the recipients of Mandy's organs.

"I'm very excited to meet them," said Betsy. "It's exciting to be able to see tangible evidence of what donating Mandy's organs did for another family, because that means the other family didn't have to watch their loved one die. That's what this is all about."

The Harrells agreed to meet two recipients of Mandy's organs.

The moment they met David Wyatt and Dolores Lenc, they said, they felt an immediate kinship.

Wyatt, of Knoxville, received Mandy's kidney and pancreas. He had diabetes for 44 years until the transplant.

Now he is diabetes free.

Upon meeting the Harrells, he said simply, "I'm so honored."

Lenc drove nine and a half hours to Knoxville from Ohio to meet the Harrells.

She says she struggles with "survivor's guilt."

"It's really hard to talk about, even though it's going to be four years. Very hard," Lenc said. "This little girl gave me life." 

Lenc suffered a rare lung condition caused by her pet bird, and had been told she had one year to live.

She had been on the transplant list for only three weeks when she received Mandy's lungs.

"No, there's nothing fair about it, what happened," David Harrell told Lenc. "Mandy died. Mandy's death was just an accident that happened. But God can be glorified and you can be healthy."


How to help

Joining the organ donor registry is now easier. You can still go to the state Division of Motor Vehicles when you get your driver's license renewed and sign up there.

More simply, however, you can go to tndonorRegistry.org to sign up online.

There are 4.5 million licensed drivers in Tennessee. Of those, 1.4 million have signed up to be organ donors.

A disparity between the supply and demand continues to exist in Tennessee. Here are numbers provided by the director of Transplant Services at UT Medical Center:

  • 120 people are waiting for heart transplants
  • 1,969 people are waiting for new kidneys
  • 21 people are waiting for lungs
  • 217 people are waiting for livers
  • 9 people are waiting for pancreas/islet cell transplants
  • 17 people are waiting for kidney/pancreas transplants

Of all the donors in 2009, in Tennessee, 317 were deceased, 122 were living.

For anyone who wants to donate to the Mandy Harrell Memorial Scholarship, which is given each year to a student the family feels Mandy would want to have the $1000 scholarship, please send donations to:

The Mandy Harrell Memorial Scholarship
c/o Knoxville Post Office Credit Union
4948 Clinton Highway
Knoxville, TN 37912 

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