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Child's decision to be organ donor saves at least 5 livescomment (0)

April 19, 2012

By Carrie Brown McWhorter

Child's decision to be organ donor saves at least 5 lives

The conversation started with a television commercial for the Alabama Organ Center (AOC). The commercial highlighted the story of a young girl whose family had donated her organs after she died of a brain aneurysm. The ad became a topic of serious conversation around the dinner table that night for Sandy Sides, her husband, Stephen, and their older children, Kayla and Micah, and it prompted a mutual family decision — they would all register as organ donors.

The next day, Sandy went online at her mother’s house to register, and while she was at the computer, the family’s youngest child, 5-year-old Savannah, who had been at a friend’s house the night before, walked into the room and started asking questions.

“I sat her in my lap and tried to explain what I was doing, and then I said, ‘Savannah, you’re mama’s baby. You have a long time to think about that.’” Sandy remembers Savannah looking up at her, compassion in her eyes, and responding, “Mommy, you need to sign me up, too. I’m not going to need them when I get to heaven.”

At that moment, Sandy could not refuse Savannah’s sincere request. Exactly one month later, that conversation took on unimaginable significance when Sandy and Savannah Sides were in a horrific auto accident near their home in Jasper. Sandy’s injuries were severe, leaving her in a coma for two weeks and requiring multiple surgeries and intensive therapy in the following months. 

As bad as Sandy’s injuries were, however, Savannah’s were worse.

“She had no internal injuries and no broken bones but she had suffered severe brain trauma,” Sandy said.

When the neurologist gave Stephen the news that Savannah had no brain activity, he was faced with a decision, and even in his grief, he remembered Savannah’s request.

“I asked the doctor if Savannah could help someone else, if there was someone she could help first (before she was removed from life support),” Stephen said. 

He told the doctor that Savannah had asked to be an organ donor and the doctor quickly contacted the AOC. Savannah’s heart valves, liver, kidneys, eyes and tissue were donated, and the Sides family knows that at least five lives were saved by Savannah’s organs. 

While they find joy in knowing the impact of Savannah’s life, the family’s recovery still has been a struggle. Looking back, they now realize that God was preparing them all for the journey ahead.

Six weeks before she died, Savannah was saved. About that same time, Sandy was teaching the book of Job in her middle school Sunday School class. 

“We were talking about never walking away from God, no matter how difficult things are,” she said. “Now I realize I wasn’t teaching them; I was teaching myself.”

“God was getting us ready, preparing us all, and we didn’t even know it,” she said.

In the months that followed Savannah’s death, Stephen and Sandy heard countless stories about their daughter, many of them about a little girl with a passion for Jesus and a desire for her friends to know Him like she did.

Savannah’s teacher remembered Savannah talking about Jesus at school. Strangers told Sandy similar stories, even recalling Savannah praying for them. And many stories ended with someone coming to know the Lord, like the story of one young boy who answered the altar call at his church the Sunday after Savannah’s death. He told his preacher that Savannah had told him about Jesus at school, and if that was where she was, he wanted to make sure he went there too.

All the stories continue to inspire Stephen and Sandy, who regularly share their testimony at churches and events that encourage organ donation. They are active in their home church, New Prospect Baptist Church, Jasper, in Walker Baptist Association, where Stephen also serves as a deacon.

Ben McLain, youth pastor at the church, said he feels honored and blessed to know the Sides family. Though their journey has not been easy, he said, their faith in Christ has always been evident and their testimony is an encouragement to everyone who hears it.

“A lot of Christians have faith on the mountaintops but the Sides have had valleys. Yet their faith in Christ has always given them the resolve to keep moving forward and to use their story to tell God’s story,” McClain said.

On April 28, another chapter in the Sides’ story will be written at Kayla’s wedding. The honorary bridesmaid will be a 7-year-old girl from Jacksonville, Fla., named Alexis. Alexis and the Sides family share a special bond — she received Savannah’s liver when she was 18 months old, and Kayla wanted Alexis to share this part in her wedding. The Sides say it is an “awesome blessing” to be part of Alexis’ life and to see photos of her playing soccer and dancing thanks to Savannah’s gift. At the wedding, Alexis, Micah and Kayla will light a memorial candle, representing that they have been joined as brother and sisters through Savannah.

“When people see photos of Savannah and Alexis and ask, I tell them that Alexis is my organ-recipient daughter,” Sandy said. “I lost my daughter in a car accident, but another little girl is alive because she has my daughter’s liver.”

Such moments are precious to Sandy and Stephen because they are following Savannah’s example of telling others about Jesus. And as they do, they encourage others to consider organ donation as well.

“We carry brochures everywhere we go,” she said. “We always ask two questions: Do you know the Lord and are you an organ donor?”

Sandy said that like Savannah, she wants to be fearless about sharing her faith, knowing that seeing lives saved — both physically and eternally — is the goal.

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