Our story begins on November 3, 1979, when I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy named Matthew Patrick LeBeau. Matthew delighted us with his presence for 23 years 8 months and 9 days.
On July 12, 2003, Matthew complained of a headache starting around noon. I asked him if he needed to go to the clinic, but he said it wasn't that bad. It was a typical Saturday at our house and that evening we had dinner as a family. Jay and I decided to go to a movie, but before we left, we asked Matthew if it was OK if we left and he said, “Sure, it only hurts when I walk.” So about 8 p.m., my husband and I left. At 9:24, Matthew called me on my cell phone. For some reason I had put it on silent and held it. I never did this. I always just shut it off and dropped it in my purse. Matthew asked if we could come home and he sounded really awful. I knew something was terribly wrong and when we got home, we found him on our bedroom floor. My husband began CPR until the ambulance arrived. Matthew had suffered from a brain aneurysm at 12:15 a.m. On July 13, he was pronounced dead and Matthew became an organ donor.
I remember feeling like I wasn't going to make it. Sadness was everywhere in my thoughts. I was looking at my life, my living son's life, my daughter's life, my husband's life and thinking, "Poor us. Why work toward anything ... we could just die and it would all be for nothing." I had given up. I hurt so bad that I couldn't even imagine caring about ANYTHING outside of my family. I had no HOPE. I had no HAPPINESS. I had no COURAGE. I had no WILL. I had no GOALS. And then something short of miraculous happened. We received a letter from Matthew's lung recipient. At first, I didn't want to read the letter, but my family read it and told me, “Mom, you really should read the letter. It might make you feel a little better.” After a couple of days, I got brave enough to read it. It was one of the most heartfelt and touching letters that anyone could imagine. This gentleman had received Matthew's lung. He told us what his life was like before the transplant and how it had changed. But the amazing thing for us was the gratitude and love that could be felt in every word he wrote. We started communicating in writing and we wrote one another over a few months and then on May 2, 2004, Jay and I decided we would attend the Second Chance Picnic that LifeShare sponsors. We hadn't been there very long when we saw a gentleman walking around asking people to sign his T-shirt. Well since we had been communicating with Matthew's lung recipient, we knew his first name. This gentleman walked up to me and began asking me to sign his shirt. His name tag was eye level and all I could see was the name “Rex” and I knew this was the man. It was an emotional meeting and we were talking all at once and crying when suddenly a women came up to us and gave me a big hug and thanking us. We very soon discovered that this young woman was Matthew's kidney and pancreas recipient. This meeting was not planned, but I truly believe it was orchestrated perfectly for us to meet.
Rex, Julie and I spoke together at the Celebration of Life in December 2004. Our friendship has grown and they have been such a huge part of our healing. We have since met Matthew's other kidney recipient, Paul S., and his liver recipient, Clifford H. It is truly amazing all of these individuals are wonderful people and very deserving of Matthew's gift.
With the help of the Rex, Julie, Paul, Clifford and our adopted recipient Ron Q., we do have hope, happiness, courage, will and goals. We still have our loss that we will carry around with us forever. But with the help of our new and wonderful friends, we have evolved to be able to accept all of the emotions and thought processes and somehow our bodies and minds adapt and help us to expand our ability to COPE and ENJOY life again. We have been given the opportunity to share in their joy, showing us first hand that Matthew's death was not just a meaningless tragedy with nothing positive. Our meeting has been very healing for all of us.
I want to tell you a little about Matthew and how we came to the decision to donate his organs. This is important because it was Matthew's beliefs and the conversations we had had, that helped make the decision to donate his organs easier. My mother was very ill for many years with kidney and liver disease. The kids asked often why grandma couldn't get a transplant. Since we are a large family and a family of biologists, our dinnertime conversations were always open to any discussion. Sometimes they were rather graphic and often just gross, but because of our openness for discussions of any kind, we learned of Matthew's wishes and desire to be an organ donor.
I have been asked many times if I felt that Matt lives on through his recipients. After much thought and searching, the answer is no. Matt's gift of his organs has given them the ability to grow and make memories with their loved ones, but there was only one Matthew and he can never be replaced. The essence of Matthew is in the memory of his bright and beautiful smile, the little wiggle of his rear and “woohoo” when he could get anything he wanted from me by simply giving me a kiss on the cheek. The love he had for his family, his wit and humor, that is the essence of Matt, and he lives on in our memories.