WALDORF, Md. – This holiday season will be unlike any other because of what feels like a never-ending COVID-19 pandemic. For us, the holidays haven’t been the same since September 2018. That is when our 26-year-old son Anthony went into cardiac arrest likely due to alcohol abuse. His brain was deprived of oxygen for too long, resulting in his death and leaving us with a broken heart.

Anthony, who grew up in Waldorf, was the boy next door with a bubbly personality. He was kind and caring. On the outside, Anthony had a passion for creating and sharing music, was vibrant, energetic and full of life. But on the inside, he was struggling with depression and turned to alcohol to cope.

After Anthony passed away, we met with representatives from the Washington Regional Transplant Community (WRTC), the organ procurement organization (OPO) that serves the metro D.C. area. They told us Anthony had the potential to save several lives as an organ, eye and tissue donor. Donation was one way to turn our personal tragedy into hope for other families. 

While we were contemplating Anthony becoming a donor, Dean Elgin from The Plains, VA, was on the job hard at work despite the fact he had end-stage heart failure. Dean was alive but dependent on an LVAD, a mechanical device that helped his weak heart pump blood to the rest of his body. He had recently spent four long months cooped up inside a hospital room away from his wife and three daughters. They were praying for a miracle, and that miracle was Anthony. Our beautiful son ended up donating seven organs to four other people. His heart now beats inside Dean’s chest. Because of Anthony, these families will not have empty chairs at their holiday tables this year. Anthony also donated bone marrow, nerves and blood for meaningful medical research. 

In August 2019, we had the opportunity to meet Dean, the recipient of Anthony’s heart. It had been 338 days since we last spoke to Anthony and when we heard his heart beating inside Dean we felt his soul was at peace. It was then we truly recognized the gift of organ donation – a gift money can’t buy. When we met Dean and his wife Carina, we gave them a photo of Anthony. Dean told us he looks at that picture every morning and Anthony’s smile gives him motivation to make the most of every day. Because of Anthony’s gift, Dean was able to celebrate when one of his daughters received her doctorate degree and he will be here to witness other remarkable moments in his family’s life.

We miss our son every single day. When we think of his organ recipients, we know his dreams and desires to be great came true. He gave the greatest gift and that is his legacy.

Despite the challenges the pandemic has presented for hospitals and the entire health care industry, WRTC still recovered and allocated 384 organs from 122 generous donors, which saved the lives of 328 people.

This holiday, we encourage you to visit BeADonor.org and sign up to be an organ donor. It will be the greatest gift you give – the gift of hope. Hope for the 108,000 people on the national transplant waiting list who, this holiday season, are wishing for their miracle.

-Pam and Timothy Howard, Waldorf, MD