LAWRENCEBURG, Ky. (KT) - Jerry and Christy Jane Hurst were given a stethoscope as they were leaving the hospital following their daughter Jill’s death last September.
The Hursts will use that stethoscope to hear their daughter’s heartbeat this Saturday when they travel to St. Augustine, Florida to meet the man who received their daughter’s heart.
“We are going to hear that same little heartbeat,” said an emotional Christy Jane Hurst. “This is going to be an emotional visit.”
Jill Hurst died several days after the vehicle she was in was struck by a man who was allegedly high on acid while fleeing from police. Jill and two friends had just left a high school football game in Lawrenceburg when the wreck occurred.
Jill passed away several days later, but was kept alive long enough for doctors to fulfill the 19-year-old’s wishes to be an organ donor — a decision that has touched, and almost certainly saved, several lives.
Along with her heart, Jill donated her liver, kidneys and lungs for transplants, along with her pancreas, intestines, leg bones, skin from the back of her hips and corneas for research purposes.
The recipient of her heart was John Sugrim, 48, a St. Augustine resident who had been in congenital heart failure for about six years at the time of the transplant.
In a telephone interview Monday, Sugrim said he was diagnosed with heart failure at 42 and was living on a pacemaker and special drugs.
He said he is looking forward to meeting the Hursts and can’t wait to thank them in person.
“I’ve gained a new family,” said Sugrim, who said he’s doing “great” since the transplant.
“I think telling them thank you is the most important thing. I’m grateful for their daughter being a donor, but if I could prevent what their daughter suffered, I’d gladly return her heart, but that’s not in my control.”
Christy Jane shared how quickly the process went to get Jill’s heart to Sugrim.
“Jill passed at 6 a.m.,” she said. “At 11:30, they placed Jill’s heart in his body. As soon as they put in place, it started beating on its own with no prompting from the medical staff. They said it was like her heart knew where it was supposed to be.”
Local recipients, too
While Jill’s heart went to Florida, the Kentucky Organ Donor Affiliates arranged to have other organs she donated remain here in Lawrenceburg.
“They have a direct donor program,” said Christy Jane. “That means if we knew someone that needed an organ, they could arrange that.
Although their names have yet to be released, Christy Jane said a person in Lawrenceburg received Jill’s liver, while another received one of her kidneys.
“She’s the only person in the U.S. to have donated more than one organ to people they know,” Christy Jane said.
“The blood types don’t usually match up, but she was O-Positive, which makes it much easier to find a match.”
Uniting Jill’s recipients
Christy Jane said each of Jill’s organ recipients have been invited to visit Lawrenceburg next month to have a group photo made that will hang in the Anderson County Courthouse to promote organ donation.
“The Organ Donation Affiliates mentioned to me that they have one in there now but it’s out of date,” Christy Jane said. “They wanted to put up a new photo. [Circuit Court Clerk] Pam Robinson came up with the idea of all of the recipients holding a picture of Jill going up on the courthouse and the Affiliates thought that was a great idea.”
Sugrim, along with the two local recipients, readily agreed, but the lung recipient has since passed. Christy Jane said she has invited but not yet heard back from the recipient of Jill’s second kidney.
Sugrim said he’s excited to visit Jill’s hometown.
“My kids are on spring break starting March 16, so it’s fortuitous for us to be coming on the 18th,” he said. “Jill’s birthday was March 20, so we’ll be there to celebrate her birthday.”
‘Always had a big heart’
As word quickly spread that Jill was going to be an organ donor in the hours leading to her death, Lawrenceburg and surrounding communities erupted in pink, paying tribute and raising awareness to the importance of becoming an organ donor.
Christy Jane said she and her husband are very proud Jill made that decision at such a young age.
“Jerry and I are incredibly proud of Jill,” she said. “She so terribly wanted to donate her organs.”
Christy Jane recounted a tweet Jill shared less than a year before she passed.
“She retweeted that she didn’t want to be buried with a single organ in her body,” Christy Jane said. “One story she really liked was a heart recipient showing up for a wedding. I remember he saying, ‘Wow, that’s awesome.’
“During Jill’s whole life all she thought about was what she could do for other people … for her friends, children, people with special needs.
“She always had a big heart.”