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'A selfless act': Hospital staff honor 22-year-old organ donor killed in crash

Posted at 6:10 PM, Oct 31, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-31 20:38:45-04

MARYVILLE, Mo. — Every day, 20 people die waiting for a transplant, according to organdonor.gov. 

Many people donate some organs, such as a kidney or a heart. But it's more rare to hear stories about people who give the ultimate gift: donating all of their organs. 

Austin Cross, a 22-year-old man who died after being seriously injured in a crash nearly two weeks ago, is one of those people. Cross was a passenger in a car that was hit head-on by a drunk driver in Maryville on Oct. 17. 

"It was emotional up and down," said Justin Ward, who had been dating Cross for nearly three years. 

Just a few days ago, doctors told Cross' family that he was brain dead.

But, Cross was an organ donor. Eight people will benefit from his donation.

"I can't even explain the emotion he would have had," Ward said. "To be able to save lives, he was just happy to help somebody out mowing the lawn or something."

Before being taken into the operating room, nurses and doctors wanted to give Cross a final goodbye. They lined the halls in a ceremony called an Honor Walk.

"We literally had about 15 minutes notification to be able to pull this together. So I just ran up to my team members and nurses on the unit and anybody I could find," said Stacey Kuhlman, nurse manager of surgical ICU at the University of Kansas Health System.

Ward posted the video of the honor walk on Facebook. In the days since, he has received an outpouring of support.

"I couldn't see the video I was crying so much," he said. "But it was amazing that they did that."

It was the first time that the hospital had done an honor walk, Kuhlman said.

"I think people forget there are all kinds of heroes in the world, and that's one of the biggest gifts somebody can give. It's just a selfless act," Kuhlman said.

The ICU nurse said she was inspired by other hospitals doing the walk.

Midwest Transplant Network, a nonprofit that works with organ donors, families and hospitals, is thrilled with how hospital staff are honoring these patients.

"I think it's important to honor their lives and honor their incredible gift of donation, and it's a small gesture that hospital staff can make," said Megan Maciel, community engagement coordinator at Midwest Transplant. "But it's just in memory of them and an incredible legacy they're leaving behind through donation."

Doctors said people in the area have big and caring hearts.

"We have a tremendous giving area, and what I mean by that is we have a really high donation rate per our population, much higher than other places around the country," said Dr. Sean Kumer, a transplant surgeon at the University of Kansas Health System.

Now, Cross' organs are keeping others alive, even though he is gone.

"Those eight people are going to continue to live their lives and be around their loved ones because of Austin's gifts. It's something you can't put a price tag on," Kumer said.

Funeral services for Cross will be held Saturday in Leavenworth. A GoFundMe page was set up to pay for the funeral expenses.