A Heartbreaking Sacrifice: How One Girl’s Tragic Death Saved the Lives of Strangers
“I made the decision to help save other people…”
Life’s most devastating moments can give rise to the most beautiful acts of love.
During a time of unfathomable grief, a father faced a decision no parent should ever gave to envision.
Doctors told him there was nothing else they could do to save his 3-year-old daughter, Lilyanne. He was asked, “would you consider donating her organs?”
Craig James had to make an incomprehensible quick decision.
How One Father’s Unfathomably Quick Decision Saved Hundreds of Lives
Following a tragic car crash that had claimed the life of his wife and had 3-year-old Lily in critical condition, Craig James was tasked with making an impossibly hard decision at the Jersey Shore University Medical Center in July 2022.
Grief-stricken, Craig was asked if he would like to donate his daughter’s organs after it was determined she was not going to survive.
The tragedy occurred when Craig’s wife, Denise, was driving their three children in Freehold Township, New Jersey. A pickup truck drifted out of its lane and collided with the family. Police determined that the driver was under the influence of drugs and he was later charged with vehicular manslaughter.
Their two sons were treated for injuries but ultimately were okay.
Once the doctors determined there was nothing more they could do for Lily, they asked Craig if he would consider donating her organs.
“I had two choices — share the gift of life with other people or let her organs rot away,” he told a local publication. “I made the decision to help save other people.”
He had to make the decision on the spot, and says he was driven by the sole motivation – – “don’t let her death be in vain.”
“From a grieving father, I basically put myself in the shoes of a father of a child who needed a heart or lung or some type of organ,” he admitted.
Though he is still coping with the tremendous loss of his daughter and wife, he takes some solace in the thought that Lily’s organs are saving the lives of others. As a father, he says he thought of other parents in similar situations, who might be able to avoid the loss he was feeling thanks to Lily’s organs.
“I want people to know that her death gave others a fighting chance,” he said.
They definitely did. Her heart and liver helped save the lives of two 2-year-old boys, and her kidneys went to an adult in renal failure.
Speaking about the recipients, Craig said, “I really want to meet them all.”
“That’s very important to me. I know Lily saved their lives, and I want to see that wonderful gift that Lily gave to other people.”
However, the process of connecting organ-donor families with recipients is a delicate one. NJ Sharing Network, a leading organ transplant facilitator in the state that worked with the James family, recommends waiting a year before attempting to reach out or make a connection.
Craig already has his outreach letters written, and ready for the time to come.
How Lily’s Legacy Lives On
Until then, he wants to share his message about organ donation with others, ensuring that Lily’s memory lives on, and her life can inspire.
More than 100,000 Americans are waiting for an organ transplant, and in 2022, a record 283 organ donors in New Jersey gave organs to 670 transplant recipients.
Craig and his sons have also been the recipients of tremendous generosity from their own community. In the weeks following the accident, a crowdfunding campaign raised $110,000 for the James family to support them during their mourning.
“I wouldn’t be here today without the support I’ve received from the community, from meal trains to gift cards to everything we received to keep us going,” Craig James said. “And our parish [St. Pius X Catholic Church in Lacey] has been amazing.”
Craig even retired from his career as a corrections officer to devote his full attention to his sons.
By opting to donate Lily’s organs, Craig was able to not only honor his daughter’s memory but also bring hope to others in need.
It is a testament to the strength of the human spirit that even in the darkest times, Craig was able to find a way to help others. While the James family is altered permanently, they can take comfort in knowing that Lily’s legacy lives on through the lives she saved.