An Unexpected Gift

by September Vaudrey

My guest on “That’s the Way Life Lives,” September Vaudrey, is a warm, engaging writer. We first met through social media and this blog. After several years of “virtual friendship,” I met September last May while doing a reading in Chicago. Our shared experience of our daughter’s deaths, and our mutual decision to donate their organs and tissues to strangers in need, forever unites us. Enjoy September’s inspiring words and please support her by purchasing her new book, Colors of Goodbye.


My husband and I stood next to our daughter’s motionless body. Katie, 19, lay on a gurney, a ventilator forcing air into her lungs, while her heart was shocked back into a sustainable rhythm. A cerebral aneurysm that lurked unsuspected in Katie’s brain had ruptured, cutting off all blood flow. Six hours later, she was declared brain-dead.

“Katie had signed the organ-donor line on her driver’s license,” the neurosurgeon told us. “Is organ donation something you would consider?”

“Absolutely,” Scott replied. I nodded in agreement. If Katie’s young, healthy organs could no longer be of use to her, I knew she would want them to help others. Our daughter would not live, but perhaps she could live on.

Katie Vaudrey

Katie Vaudrey

The next day, Katie gave the final gifts of her life. A 37-year-old mother received her left kidney and pancreas. A 43-year-old man received her right kidney. Her liver saved the life of a 68-year-old grandma. Her heart valves were saved for future use. And a 26-year-old woman who received Katie’s lungs was now breathing the fresh June air. In addition, Katie had donated bone, cartilage, and connective tissue for various orthopedic reconstructions, skin from her back for burn grafts—and both her corneas, which restored vision to a young man and woman.

All because she signed the line on the back of her driver’s license. I would give anything for my daughter not to have given these gifts, but it brought deep satisfaction to learn how much good had come from something so awful.

Two of the most meaningful gifts from Katie’s donation were not ones listed on the donor report we received.

Because it takes about a day to find suitable matches for organ donation and get the recipients prepped for surgery, our family received the unexpected gift of a 27-hour vigil with our girl. I never left her room. I sat with her, held her hand, stroked her warm skin. That sacred vigil will forever linger tenderly in my heart. It also allowed time for our older kids to fly home from college so we could gather together as a whole family, one final time. We prayed over Katie and said our goodbyes. What a gift that vigil was.

And I received the additional gift of hearing from three of Katie’s recipients in the months following her death. While I find peace in knowing Katie’s soul lives on in the next reality, it bolsters my resilience and gives me joy to visualize how her final gifts are living on in this world through those to whom she gave the gift of life.

Deciding to be on the organ donor list is simple, it’s free, and it gives the greatest of gifts—not only to organ recipients, but to donor families like ours, in ways you may never have imagined. You can learn more here.

Eleanor and September

Eleanor and September

About September Vaudrey

September Vaudrey and husband, Scott, have five grown children and two grandchildren. September is on staff in the pastoral care department at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois. She teaches workshops on parenting, grief, and marital restoration. Her book, Colors of Goodbye: A Memoir of Holding On, Letting Go, and Reclaiming Joy in the Wake of Loss, tells the story of September’s journey to rebuild her life in the aftermath of her daughter Katie’s death.


Twitter: @septvaudrey


Instagram: septembervaudrey