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Family renews lives after tragedy

May 15, 2007|by JANET HEIM

HAGERSTOWN - Almost a year after her brother's suicide, Michelle Vinson has lots of unanswered questions.

One question she and her family did answer - whether to donate her brother's organs and tissues - proved to be a lifesaver in many ways.

Vinson remembers clearly the call from Washington County Hospital on June 26 with news that her 35-year-old brother, Shawn Baker, had shot himself in the head.

He was on life support and not expected to live. Vinson, her husband and two children rushed to the hospital and were the first of the family to arrive.

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Baker, who lived in Hagerstown, had not indicated on his driver's license that he wanted to be an organ donor.

That left Vinson and her other brother and sister, who lived locally, and their mother, who lived in Florida, to decide whether or not to donate her brother's organs and tissue.

Fearing Baker's heart would stop at any time, the family quickly agreed to organ and tissue donation.

"We thought out of this tragedy, maybe something good will come out of this, that we could help other people," said Vinson, who lives on Northridge Drive.

Baker's body was kept on life support for another day while transplant teams and organ recipients were prepared. Six organs, including the heart, kidney, lungs, liver and retinas, and assorted tissues were removed in a six-hour operation and transported by awaiting doctors.

The family has learned, through the Living Legacy Foundation, a national organ donation organization, that three of the recipients of Baker's organs were terminally ill and that the recipient of the heart was near death.

Vinson said they have heard that all of the organ recipients are doing well and that they will be able to contact them if they want.

Before her brother's death, Vinson said her family never discussed organ donation. Now, Vinson urges families to talk about whether they want to be organ donors so families won't have to make that decision.

"It's something you don't sit at the dinner table and talk about," Vinson said. "Since then, it has changed our minds."

Vinson recently attended the Living Legacy Foundation's 11th annual statewide Donor Remembrance Ceremony. The celebration was the last weekend in April - Organ Donation Month - at Goucher College in Towson, Md.

She said it honored those who became organ and tissue donors, as well as their families.

For Vinson, it was a reminder that despite the untimely death of her brother, other lives were saved.

"If one beautiful life such as Shawn's cannot be here anymore, then that life should be passed on," Vinson said.

For more information about organ and tissue donation, call The Living Legacy Foundation of Maryland at 1-800-641-HERO or go to www.thellf.org on the Web.

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