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Girl's organs give 3 others chance at life

January 07, 1999

Emily StevensBy LAURA ERNDE / Staff Writer




KEEDYSVILLE - Her parents will always remember Emily Stevens as their "little Christmas angel."

When the 14-month-old Keedysville girl died on Christmas Day, four days after a traffic accident, the donation of her organs gave three children a chance at life.

"Those families had a great Christmas," said Emily's mother, Melissa Mellott.

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She and her husband, Andy Stevens, cling to that hope during a time when their life is filled with sadness.

Mellott said she wakes up every morning expecting to see Emily. The reality of the Dec. 21 car accident hasn't yet hit home.

That morning, Mellott had Emily safely tucked, so she thought, in her car seat. The seat was installed, just as safety experts recommend, in the middle of the back seat of her 1998 Dodge Neon.

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As Mellott tried to cross Md. 34 from South Main Street in Keedysville, her car collided with a 1986 Mazda RX-7.

The family believes that a piece of the car struck Emily's chin, instantly breaking her neck.

Jerry Devries, a Florida teacher who was visiting his mother in Keedysville, helped emergency crews resuscitate Emily.

She was taken to Washington County Hospital and then flown to the intensive care unit at Children's Hospital in Washington, D.C.

As soon as the family arrived, doctors told them Emily had no chance to survive.

"It would take a miracle to have her quadriplegic on a ventilator," said Stevens, 28, a warehouse worker at Tele-Plus in Hagerstown.

While Stevens was preparing himself for the worst, Mellott refused to give up hope. Emily was very headstrong.

"She was perfect, yet very stubborn. That's why I thought she'd live. Just to show them," said Mellott, 25, who is studying elementary education at Hood College in Frederick, Md.

The couple was touched by an outpouring of love and support. About 30 relatives and friends joined them for a marathon bedside vigil.

Hospital employees were very caring, especially nurse Jonathan Godfrey, with whom they've kept in touch. He sent them a poem he wrote:

"I touch you now with fingers, hands and eyes.

So that if in future time, I cannot, I will know that when you were here I did.

And if memory permits I will touch you again."

On Dec. 23, doctors talked to them about donating Emily's organs.

At first, both Mellott and Stevens were opposed to the idea. They were horrified by the thought of Emily undergoing surgery while her heart was still beating.

The next night, doctors told them their daughter was brain dead.

"I don't really know the words to describe how I felt," Stevens said. "Very empty, I guess."

They walked outside the hospital and knew, without words, that they wanted to donate Emily's organs.

"If it was Emily who had needed something we would have wanted somebody else to do the same thing," Mellott said.

Family members said their goodbyes and nurse Godfrey agreed to see Emily through the surgery.

Emily's heart went to a boy at the hospital. Her liver and a lung helped two other children, although the family was not told the names.

Transplants are always risky, but the couple is hoping for the best for the recipients. Eventually, they would like to meet the children who received their daughter's organs.

Among hospital staff, Emily became known as "the little Christmas angel."

"That's how we came to think of her," said Emily's grandfather, Michael Stevens.

The thought of their angel touching three other lives has made it a little easier for Emily's parents to deal with the horror and sadness of losing their only child.

One glance at their living room are in indication of how important Emily was to the family.

Five portraits of Emily grace the wall above the couch. Several smaller pictures sit on the entertainment center. Dozens of toys are stacked, untouched, on one side of the room.

Emily had recently learned to walk and her vocabulary consisted of words like, "thank you," "doggy," "kitty," "Da Da" and "Mom."

She liked to be entertained and she liked entertaining others with her bubbly personality.

"She didn't so much like toys as she did people," Mellott said.

Michael Stevens, whom Emily called "Pap Pap," said the organ donation has been the one bright spot in an otherwise dismal holiday season.

"It's awfully hard to make some sense of it," he said.

Emily's headstone will read: "Our precious Christmas Angel. You will forever be remembered."

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