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A silver lining

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Though heartbroken over the loss of her daughter Maddi, Carrie Higgins found hope when she learned of successful organ donations that saved five lives. Here, she poses with her favorite photo of Maddi. In the midst of the most difficult time of her life, Carrie Higgins was faced with a choice.

Exactly 24 hours had passed since her 17-year old daughter, Maddi, was critically injured in a car accident. Doctors found no evidence of brain activity after extensive surgery, and told the Higgins family that Maddi had a zero percent chance of survival.

Even with that prognosis, doctors said there was still an option to conduct more tests after an additional 12 hours, if the family chose to wait and hold out hope. But doing so would place Maddi’s organs in jeopardy, and she was registered as a donor.

Carrie Higgins would have loved to hold her daughter’s hand for 12 more hours. But the “zero percent” prognosis — so definite — pushed Higgins into action.by: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Higgins first learned of the organ donations through social media, and hopes to one day meet the recipients of Maddis organs.

“There was a chance if we waited an additional 12 hours that her organs wouldn’t be vital,” Higgins said. “When you have a zero percent chance, we thought, ‘Gosh. At this point, it’s no longer about saving her life, it’s about saving someone else’s.”

Maddi Higgins was pronounced dead that night, June 9, one day after a crash on Petes Mountain Road that also killed the vehicle’s driver, 18-year old Hayden Soyk. Three weeks after her daughter’s death, Carrie Higgins still feels numb — nothing about the tragedy makes sense.

The only bright spot came when Higgins learned what became of Maddi’s organs. Her heart went to a 15-year old boy in Los Angeles. The lungs were brought to Washington, where they were donated to a 17-year old girl who was originally from Corvallis. Maddi’s liver went to a 60-year old father, and both kidneys were also transplanted — one going to a 10-year old girl and the other to a 77-year old mother of two.

Higgins first heard about the successful transplants through social media.

“Maddi’s accident got a lot of news coverage, and my cousin in Prineville was watching the story,” Higgins said. “Though social media, he found out that a gal he went to high school with had a little daughter from Corvallis getting a lung transplant in Washington.”

Higgins knew that the timeline between organ harvesting and donation was only about four hours, and it became clear that Maddi’s lungs had found a new home.

“Everything just lined up,” Higgins said. “We knew when Maddi had her surgery, and it was literally about four hours later that the recipient had her surgery. That was sort of ... I guess my first smile in that tragic time.”

The good news continued to arrive. Via Facebook, Higgins learned that a friend of a friend had recently received a kidney believed to be Maddi’s.

Word of the heart and liver came later, in a letter from the Pacific Northwest Transplant Bank that confirmed all of the successful donations.

“It’s kind of my only hope,” Higgins said. “At the same time that one life is going away, you’re creating life for, in this case, five people. Five people that wouldn’t have lives.”

“It is kind of the silver lining in all of this that she’s been able to give a quality of life to others,” said Linda Flores, Carrie Higgins’ mother. “We are blessed by that, and that will be a living memorial for her.”

Higgins was particularly touched by the fact that Maddi’s organs were used to help three children.

“She had this calling to work with special needs kids — kids that were at a disadvantage,” Higgins said. “The fact that she was able to help three kids in all this, it’s pretty amazing.”

As it turned out, Maddi’s heart went to a 15-year old baseball player. Maddi — a first team all-state softball player for West Linn High School — also loved baseball, and as a child wrote a letter about how she wanted to be the first woman in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame.

“What I was saying the whole time was, ‘Wouldn’t it be so cool if (a recipient) played softball or baseball?’” Higgins said. “And then a baseball player got her heart. And her heart was in baseball, so it was kind of this great full-circle thing.”

Carrie and Maddi Higgins were together at the DMV when Maddi decided to become an organ donor. Carrie Higgins remembers it as “just a quick conversation,” Maddi listening to her mother’s advice and deciding that she, too, wanted to give back if she had the chance.

As she moves forward, Higgins hopes to one day meet the recipients of Maddi’s organs and — more importantly — that others will register after hearing her story.

“This is the only thing that made sense in a senseless moment,” Higgins said.

To register as a donor, be sure to check the box when you apply for or renew your driver’s license, state identification card or learner’s permit. You can also register online at donatelifenw.org.

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