Shelby Ann Cooper: Our Angel, our Hero
Our daughter, Shelby, was an energetic and outgoing 16-year-old. She was involved in volleyball, basketball, track, 4-H, Future Farmers of America, National Honor Society, her friends and her youth group at church.
She and her brother also showed pigs and lambs at the county fair. She always had fun no matter what she was doing.
Our life changed forever on October 21, 2004. Shelby was in a single car accident and died from a brain injury. Our family, friends and our entire small community was devastated. Of course, our dreams for her were shattered that day. There would be no proms, graduation, college, marriage, and she wouldn’t be having our grandchildren. The sadness we felt took us to our knees for quite some time. The support from our loved ones, community and our faith in God has helped us get back up on our feet.
When Shelby earned her driver’s license, she was so excited to tell us that she was an organ donor. We were not registered organ donors at the time and did not know a lot about organ donation. However, we wanted to fulfill her wish. Shelby donated two kidneys, her liver and her pancreas. We are so proud she saved three people waiting for a transplant. With the help of Lifeline of Ohio, we corresponded with her recipients. We also met her kidney and pancreas recipient. All of them have expressed how humble they felt and that they were thankful to hear from us. We wanted them to know how happy we were that Shelby lived on in them.
We know a little of what the past holiday was like for donor families without their loved one. Our first Christmas without
Shelby was a sad time for us and our family. We decided to buy ornaments for our loved ones and had them engraved with her name and birth date and also her angel date. We also decided to create a Shelby tree in addition to our regular Christmas tree; it was adorned with purple lights (her favorite color) and many ornaments that were given to us in memory of her. It stays up for most of the winter. The ornament contained a poem, “Merry Christmas from Heaven,” by John Wm. Mooney.
I still hear the songs, I still see the lights, I still feel your love, on cold wintery nights. I still share your hopes, and all of your cares. I’ll even remind you to please say your prayers. I just want to tell you, you still make me proud. You stand head and shoulders above all the crowd. Keep trying each moment to stay in His grace, I came here before you to help set your place. You don’t have to be perfect all of the time. He forgives you the slip if you continue the climb. To my family and friends please be thankful today, I’m still close beside you in a new special way. I love you all dearly, now don’t shed a tear, cause I‘m spending my Christmas with Jesus this year.
Shelby has taken us on an amazing journey because she selflessly gave of herself through the Gift of Life. We established a scholarship in Shelby’s memory at our local school and have a golf outing around her birthday every year in June to support the scholarship. Her picture is proudly displayed on Lifeline of Ohio’s “Shine On” quilt that we hang at the outing. As Ambassadors for Lifeline of Ohio, we’ve participated in the National Kidney Foundation Transplant Games, festivals and 5Ks, danced in a flash-mob at Crew Stadium, and in 2013, we were chosen as the volunteer donor family to be honored at the Tournament of Roses Parade. The experience is almost indescribable. We were able to finish Shelby’s floragraph at her school in our hometown of Lucas, Ohio and then we flew out to Pasadena where we able to help decorate the actual Donate Life Float. The most emotional moment was watching the parade come down the street and seeing our Shelby’s picture on it. Of course we wished she was there with us, or better yet that we were all home together with her brother Scott as a family again – but life doesn’t always happen the way we wish it would, so that day through our tears we celebrated Shelby and her gifts of life and enjoyed that she was being honored as a hero in such a special way. We want all donor families to know your loved one will take you on your own journey and give you many opportunities to celebrate their legacies.
What has been important to us from the beginning is that, like every organ donor, Shelby never be forgotten. We know because she saved and healed lives, she will always be fondly remembered through the gifts she gave and the grateful recipients whose lives were changed forever.