Duke passionate about importance of organ donors

Published 10:12 am Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Michael Duke

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth, and final story, in a series of stories aimed at increasing public awareness about organ donation and the lives that it impacts.

Michael Duke is so passionate about the importance of organ donation that it led to his career change.

Duke, who lives in Decatur County and works as a paramedic for the Seminole County Emergency Medical Services (EMS), lost his son, Shaun, on Dec. 7, 1998. Shaun contracted pneumonia in May 1998, and the disease attacked his lungs and required hospitalization in Eggleston Children’s Hospital in Atlanta, and Shands Hospital in Gainesville, Fla.

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Duke said that Shaun needed a lung and heart transplant in order to survive, but time ran out before a suitable match could be found.

“We prayed daily for his survival,” Duke said. “We were hoping there would be a match, while we were also aware that our son’s salvation would be at the expense of another family’s loved one. It’s a feeling that is impossible to describe to anyone who hasn’t been in that situation.”

Duke said Shaun’s family made the decision to donate the boy’s organs, after his passing.

“We made this decision based on the fact that we prayed for organs for him, and it would be hypocritical on our part to deny his usable organs to others in need.

“Shaun’s eyes are now giving someone sight, his heart valves are keeping someone alive. While it doesn’t alleviate our pain at losing him, it gives us peace.

“Shaun was a generous child, loving and caring. I know, in my heart, that he would have approved.”

June Faircloth is a friend of Duke’s, and lost her own son, Dylan, to a car crash in July 2010. She said she was overwhelmed by the power of Duke’s story.

“Most people know Dylan’s story, but not all of you know that he was a self-designated organ donor,” Faircloth said. “He truly wanted to ‘live forever’ by saving others. Michael Duke’s story broke my heart when he told me that even though he lost his son because there was no donor to save him, he and his wife Jo decided to donate life through Shaun.

“As painful as it was to let go of my precious Dylan, I can’t imagine how unbearable it would be knowing that someone left behind their gifts of life. Michael has changed his career from a plumber to an EMT, so that he can be on the front line of helping parents deal with their loss.

“He is the one who inspired me to keep moving forward in Dylan’s memory, so that no child should have to die while waiting on a transplant list.”

One of Faircloth’s annual events to spur on public education of organ and tissue donation is the Epic 5-K Challenge, which will be held this weekend. The 5,000-meter (3.1-mile) run is Saturday, Oct. 27, at 9 a.m., at the Spring Hill Christmas Tree Farm. All information is available online at epicday.yolasite.com, or by calling Faircloth at (229) 246-4670.

In addition, citizens can become a volunteer or learn more about organ and tissue donation by visiting online at www.lifelinkfound.org/ga or by calling LifeLink of Georgia’s public affairs department at (706) 854-0333 or 1-800-544-6667. To sign up to be an organ, tissue and eye donor, visit online at Donate Life Georgia’s organ and tissue registry at www.donatelifegeorgia.org or call 1-866-57-SHARE (74273).

June Faircloth has been ardently supporting the cause of organ donation after losing her son Dylan in a car accident. Dylan was an organ donor and his gift benefited people around the world.