Dewey and Kristy Bishop, like any parents, were overjoyed at the birth of their only son Matthew on July 1, 1997.
“He’d like to make you laugh. He was always so energetic and outgoing as a kid,” said Dewey.
Doctors told the Bishop’s it was a high-risk pregnancy, but Matthew defied the odds.
Like many boys, he loved sports. Football and wrestling were his favorites. But his parents say Matthew was depressed and last August, just after his 21st birthday, he attempted suicide.
“The morning we got the call was my birthday,” said Kristy.
It was August 5. The Bishops spent two days at Matthew’s bedside at a hospital in Lexington. He never regained consciousness and died on August 7.
“That drive was the longest one I’ve ever taken. It was worse when we got there than I thought it would be. I was holding out hope that it wasn’t as bad as they were telling us,” Kristy said.
“In the back of all of our minds was the fact that there was a family out there who was going through the worst time of their life,” said David Barber.
As Dewey and Kristy were saying their goodbyes, David got a late night phone call from doctors in Lexington. He spent 10 months on the heart transplant list and was soon on his way from Cincinnati to prep for surgery. “So, immediately there was a little panic and it was time to go,” he said.
The decision to donate Matthew’s organs came easy for the Bishops. He liked to give blood at blood drives at school. His parents considered Matthew a giver.
“That was part of the reason we chose to. Because he was already a blood donor, and he did that of his own free will,” said Dewey.
Matthew donated seven organs. 42-year-old David got his heart. His liver went to a 53-year-old woman. Both lungs were transplanted into a 63-year-old man. Matthew’s right kidney went to a 35-year-old man and his left kidney and pancreas were donated to a 37-year-old man.
“As a family, it is our job to let them know that they shouldn’t feel guilty because we chose to do this,” said Kristy.
About two weeks after David’s transplant, the Bishop’s received a handwritten letter. They later learned it came from David, but at the time there were little clues about who got Matthew’s heart.
“I wanted to send you a note today because today was the first opportunity I had to watch and listen to my donor heart. I will never have the words to express the depths of my gratitude,” Kristy said as she was reading the letter.
“Gratitude. For a new start in my life - an opportunity to feel better than I have in years. Just the ultimate gratitude that a person would have,” David explained.
It was Dewey’s Christmas wish to meet David and listen to his son’s heartbeat. Kentucky Organ Donor Affiliates, or KODA, helped coordinate the moment between Dewey and David.
“Being able to talk to him, thanks to him, our son’s heart hasn’t quit beating yet,” Kristy said.
“They told me many times that I’ve got the best part of their son. So, that symbolic beat of Matthew’s that I carry with me certainly to have that kind of connection is special to me,” David told WHAS11.
Right now, there are about 115,000 men, women and children in the US waiting for an organ transplant. That’s enough to fill the KFC Yum! Center more than five times.
“It is the ultimate form of charity that one can give,” said Shannon Adkins. She is KODA’s philanthropy officer. The agency provides education and outreach to families who are considering or going through organ donation.
Shannon first turned to KODA after her 6-year-old son Keegan drowned in a swimming pool in 2011. “When we were given the news from the doctor that Keegan was no longer as we remember him, or as we knew him, I knew that we needed to talk to someone about organ donation,” she said.
Keegan saved five lives through his organ donations. Shannon and her husband met Keegan’s liver recipient last year. “We want to go out and spread the message of what an amazing thing it is and the lives that that are being saved and the heroes we have today that chose to be organ donors and have saved so many lives,” she said.
Shannon helps provide aftercare to families, like the Bishops, who were eager to meet David. Last year, KODA cared for 134 organ donor families. Their loved ones saved 423 lives. The Bishops and David now share a bond through grief and gratitude.
“Hearing Matthew’s story. Talking to Dewey. It was an immediate connection. They are definitely family,” David said.
“Knowing that we can’t pick up the phone and talk to our son. The next best thing is picking up the phone and hearing David’s voice,” said Dewey.
What to learn more about how organ donation works? Watch the video below from organdonor.gov.
Become an organ donor
Thousands of people are waiting for organs and the list keeps growing each day. According to organdonor.gov, one donor can save up to eight lives.
You can help by registering to become an organ donor in your state. If you live in Kentucky, click here, Indiana, click here, and all other states click here to sign up today! Or you can sign up when you renew your driver's license. It takes only a few minutes to register and could give the gift of life to those waiting for an organ.
If you think you may already be an organ donor, check your state-issued identification card and look for the organ donor designation. See examples below.