Amazingly, in 2020, more lives were saved through organ donation than ever before, even as a pandemic held the country at a standstill. Individuals like Zachary McKeon, and the McKeon family, are the key to how LifeLink of Florida had a record year with 295 organ donors, resulting in 913 organs transplanted. This is the third year in a row that LifeLink facilitated a record number of donors and shows a 20% increase in organs transplanted compared to 2019.
Last year, 23-year-old Zach McKeon unexpectedly died. Thanks to a conversation prior to his death, Zach’s fiancé, Olivia, knew his decision to become a donor. “I think he was a hero on earth when he was living. It only makes sense he would continue that legacy,” Olivia recalls. Zach’s father, Dan McKeon, remembers taking Zach to get his driver license, “That‘s the kind of person Zach was. He just knew at 15 years old that he wanted to be an organ donor.”
And a hero Zach was, even in death, as he saved four lives by donating his heart, both kidneys and liver. Zach’s gifts of life were also made possible by other often unsung heroes, like the hospital staff who made the potential of organ donation a priority while battling COVID-19, PPE shortages and understaffing, who worked closely with LifeLink throughout the process. “Unprecedented challenges required that the entire organ recovery team work together on creative solutions to ensure that organs were made available for transplant. We remain grateful for the generosity of donor families; our dedicated and committed staff; and partnerships with hospital staff, surgeons, medical examiners and transportation providers for their respective contributions to our mission of saving more lives through organ and tissue donation,” shared Liz Lehr, senior vice president and executive director of LifeLink of Florida. LifeLink implemented COVID-19 testing on all donors, and continued to find ways to support families, as well as hospital staff, through the donation process.
Not long after he became a donor, Zach’s mom, Dawn McKeon, sent letters through LifeLink to the recipients of her son’s organs, and LifeLink passed those letters to the transplant centers where those recipients were treated. Then the McKeons’ waited. “When we get a letter from LifeLink you would think we hit the lottery or Christmas came. It’s the best part of my week,” shared Dawn. Over the next few months the McKeon family heard from three recipients, all who shared their gratitude, how their health has been renewed and how their lives were saved thanks to Zach. The family continues to communicate back and forth with each recipient. Zach’s sister Kaitlin noted that donation was the only positive from losing her brother, “It is so awesome that someone else can experience a part of him because he was so strong and such a good person. The recipients feel him with them. It’s important to us that he is living on through other people. Every day he is helping someone else, he is helping families, so they don’t have to experience loss like we experienced.”
The family proudly flies the Donate Life flag given to them by LifeLink right under the American flag in their front yard, 24/7. Dawn shared that the flag provides a special meaning to the family as Zach always loved to run with the American flag, and even had an American flag hanging in his college dorm room at Florida State University, where he graduated in 2019.
The McKeons’ hope by sharing Zach’s story that it will inspire others to save lives through organ donation. To learn more, visit www.donatelifeflorida.org, the state’s organ and tissue donor registry.