WHITE HEATH — When her 11-year-old son, Teddy, was critically injured in an accident, Robyn Deterding held onto his hands in the hospital and prayed for a miracle.
She believes one arrived, though "it wasn't the miracle we wanted," she says.
Teddy Deterding died just days after the July 2000 car accident that happened 3 miles from the family's home in White Heath.
And because his parents allowed him to be an organ donor, his kidneys and pancreas saved the lives of two other people and his corneas restored someone else's sight.
"He was the miracle," Deterding says.
And his gifts won't go unrecognized.
On New Year's Day, Teddy Deterding will be honored, along with dozens of other organ donors, in the 2014 Tournament of Roses Parade.
A memorial floral image of Teddy captured in flowers, seeds and spices will be one of 81 such tributes aboard the Donate Life float, with Teddy's floragraph representing Illinois-based Gift of Hope, an organ-and-tissue donor network for which the Deterdings have become active advocates.
Nine members of the Deterding family will be in Pasadena, Calif., to participate in donor family activities, help work on the float and watch the parade from the grandstands.
From tragedy to advocacy
The director of University of Illinois Campus Recreation, Deterding tells the story leading up to the loss of her son as though it happened yesterday.
The accident happened on a Monday at the end of July, while she was out of state for a work meeting.
Her volleyball coach husband, Mike, was driving home from the grocery store in Champaign with Teddy and then 10-year-old daughter Hannah.
They were on one of those curvy country roads in the midst of farming season, Robyn recalls, and Mike never saw the truck coming.
Dad and both kids were hospitalized in intensive care. Hannah suffered a head injury, Mike had facial injuries, and both recovered.
Teddy was hurt the worst. On Thursday of that week, the family learned he wouldn't recover, Robyn Deterding says.
"A respirator was the only thing that was keeping him going," she says. "The doctors talked to us on Thursday morning. They talked to us about being an organ-and-tissue donor."
Just a couple of months before the accident, the family had heard speakers from Gift of Hope at a church program. Both parents and kids were interested in the donor program, and had even talked about it later, Robyn recalls, "though little did we know that my family would be in an accident."
What she did know was Teddy was a sensitive, caring boy who had already bought presents with his own money for his grandma and sister in advance of their birthdays and wrapped them before he died, his mom says.
His parents knew being an organ donor was something he'd want to do.
Looking for the positives since Teddy died has taken time, Deterding says.
"We were in the deepest, darkest hole after we lost him," she recalls.
Some people the family knew were mad at God after Teddy died, but that didn't happen to her, Deterding says. When she thought about it, she says, she knew God lost His son too, and understood what they were going through.
"One thing we always say is things always happen for a reason, and sometimes we don't know what the reason is until later," she adds.
One of those unexpected outcomes: Being involved with Gift of Hope for more than a decade has brought the family into contact with a lot of organ donor recipients, and she's heard a lot of positive stories, Deterding says.
Last year, she helped set a world record for registering the most organ, eye and tissue donors in one day during UI Quad Day, registering 2,262 new donors in a day, she said.
Her son's death "never really goes away," Deterding says.
"But we see that there have been other opportunities, other experiences that we've had because of it," she adds. "A friend said you can either sit in the front row and have a great ride or sit back and be grumpy. We choose to sit in the front row. We choose to make our life the best that we can, no matter what gets thrown at us."
It takes 45 seconds to register online to become an organ donor, and there are thousands of people in Illinois waiting for more people to take that step, according to Kevin Cmunt, the organization's president and CEO.
Gift of Hope has more than 5,000 people in Illinois waiting for organ transplants, half of whom need kidneys. The rest are waiting for a liver, heart, lungs, pancreas or small intestines, he says.
The wait for kidney patients, in particular, can be grueling.
In Gift of Hope's service area — which includes the northern two-thirds of Illinois and Lake and Porter counties in Indiana — the average wait for a kidney is five years, Cmunt says.
"These are patients that are on dialysis," he adds. "We can keep them alive, but we can't keep them living. People on dialysis are pretty sick."
How people progress up the waiting list depends on what kind of organ they're waiting for and a lot of other criteria, he says. For kidneys, for example, it can depend on a person's age, level of kidney function and the ability to find a match.
For a heart, the wait can be as brief as a few days for small children in great need, he says.
For all people on waiting lists for donations, sooner is better than later for a transplant.
"The chances for a successful transplant are better when someone isn't lying in a hospital near death," Cmunt says.
Gift of Hope operates 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, including Christmas Day.
"Peoples' lives depend on it," Cmunt says.
There are 186 hospitals under contract to report deaths and potential donors to this organization, he says. Potential donors are those who have suffered brain deaths, but still have beating hearts, keeping vital organs viable for transplant.
In that instance, the families of the patients are approached about organ donation, Cmunt says.
It's easier to arrange donations when the patient has registered to be a donor in advance, he says, but even when a patient has already registered, the organization prefers to talk to the family and obtain the patient's medical history.
Each family situation is different, Cmunt says, but for the family facing the loss of a loved one, the prospect of organ donation can be a very healing experience.
"They see something good can come out of this tragic loss," he says.
Five things to know about organ and tissue donation
It's a contract
Illinois law changed in 2006 to allow an adult's wish to become an organ donor to be legally binding. Previously, family consent was needed for any donors, but now family consent is required only for those under 18.
What you might be donating
The heart, kidneys, pancreas, lungs, liver and intestines are all suitable organs for donation. Donated tissue can include skin, bones, corneas, tendons, heart valves, saphenous veins and soft tissue.
Will you die prematurely if you're a donor?
Fears that hospitals will let registered donors die are groundless, according to Life Goes On, the Secretary of State's program that coordinates and promotes organ/tissue donor registration. Every life-saving effort is made for registered donors, and donation only becomes an option when a patient is declared brain-dead.
Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network
This is a nonprofit organization in a network of 58 such organ procurement organizations across the U.S. Since 1987, Gift of Hope says it has saved the lives of nearly 20,000 organ transplant recipients and improved the lives of hundreds of thousands of tissue transplant recipients.
Two quick ways to register online