Son lives on, thanks to selfless decision on organ donation

FORT WORTH -- Last March, Ian Heidemann went online and signed up to be an organ and tissue donor.

His parents learned of that selfless act upon the 22-year-old Keller High School graduate's accidental death this month.

"He was always thinking of others," said his mother, Janis Heidemann. "That's just the kind of person he was."

Even so, she realized what a tremendous gift her son had bestowed upon people he'll never meet.

"When you're young, you think you'll live forever," she said. "That makes it even more amazing that he made a conscious decision to be a donor."

Through his gift to Donate Life Texas Registry, doctors at JPS Health Network recovered several of Heidemann's organs, including his heart, kidneys, liver, lungs and pancreas. They also recovered his corneas.

"He had a big heart, and we're glad he donated it," his mother said. "Now someone else has a big heart for their family."

And, most rare, they recovered his entire right hand.

In all, the donations coordinated through the local nonprofit group LifeGift are expected to save several lives and give sight, said Laura Frnka-Davis of LifeGift. Recovered tissue could touch up to 100 lives, Frnka-Davis said.

"In spirit, Ian lives on," said Rob Heidemann, Ian's father, who works in sales. "It just puts us at peace."

Rare transplant

Hand transplants are extremely rare -- 17 have been performed in the United States, and Heidemann's hand donation is the second to have come from Texas.

At Jewish Hospital in Louisville, Ky., Heidemann's hand was surgically attached to the right arm of 56-year-old Ronald Thurman, a husband and father who lost his hand in a farming accident nine years ago. Thurman's hand was amputated nine inches below his elbow after it got caught in a combine/auger.

He had a low-elbow prosthesis before the surgery.

Heidemann's parents said it is appropriate that their son's hand went to a farmer, as they come from a farming family.

"I grew up on a farm in Nebraska and still have friends and family there," Janis Heidemann said.

Added Heidemann's father, "Through this man, Ian will be able to shake another man's hand."

Lead surgeon Dr. Joseph Kutz and a team of 24 hand surgeons and two anesthesiologists took part in the 151/2-hour procedure.

"It is a team effort," Kutz said. "We worked in two-hour shifts throughout the night. We had a plan, and we're very happy as he seems to be doing well."

Kutz said Thurman moved his new appendage Tuesday, which impressed the doctors and thrilled the farmer and his wife.

"His hand looks good," Kutz said. "Of course, we are a long way from knowing how well it will function, but he is doing quite well. The object is he can use his hand and will have the ability to grasp things."

Thurman will remain under care in Louisville for several months.

"That man will be able to shake someone else's hand, thanks to our son," Rob Heidemann said.

Raising awareness

Heidemann said he hopes that his son's decision will raise awareness of the importance of organ donation, especially among younger people.

"Our shock and grief has turned to inspiration and pride," Heidemann said. "We couldn't be prouder that Ian made a decision to impact so many lives."

Heidemann was born July 29, 1989, in Thornton, Colo., and lived in many cities, including Denver, Los Angeles, Eagan, Minn., and Fort Worth. He was a 2007 graduate of Keller High School and attended Tarrant County College.

He lived at home and had recently begun working at a restaurant in the Eagle Mountain Lake area. On Feb. 9, he suffered a head injury in a car accident. After five days on life support, he died on Valentine's Day.

"We prayed for a miracle and although we didn't receive it, it was a miracle for all these other families who received his gifts," Janis Heidemann said.

Several days into their son's stay in the hospital -- with virtually no hope for recovery -- his parents were approached about Ian's donation plans.

His mother said it was completely in his character. "Ian was the kind of person people flocked to," she said. "He always was thoughtful. Before he left for work [the day of the accident], the last thing he said was 'I love you, Mom.' He said it every day."

Ian, who was a middle child to brother Bob and sister Michaela, was a thoughtful child, and an adventurous one, too, Janis Heidemann said.

"He lived life on the edge," his mother said. "He liked doing things that were scary and daring. If he climbed a mountain, he would get as close to the edge as possible.

"He's our hero and always will be."

Marty Sabota,


Twitter: @stcrime