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'It's a healing'

Zoe Greszler • Updated Jun 20, 2017 at 12:02 AM

July 31, 2006 will be a date that Kathi and Russ Flew will remember for the rest of their lives.  

Many others also know that date thanks to the nationwide broadcasting of a fleet of 375 trucks with a picture of their late son Dylan Flew and a simple message: “Dylan saved five lives. Be an organ and tissue donor.”

‘A parent should never lose a child’

On July 31 Dylan, then just nine days shy of 21, was riding his motorcycle with friends on Shawmill Road, near U.S. 250 outside Milan, when one of the other riders lost control and hit Flew’s bike, causing both of them to be ejected. Flew was not wearing a helmet and received injuries that eventually proved fatal. 

Nearly 11 years later, Kathi said the loss of her son has been something she and her family still struggle with everyday.

“It’s the worst possible thing you can imagine and 10 times worse,” she said, starting to become choked up. “You don’t think you can survive. Losing a child is probably the hardest thing I can ever imagine someone going though. … I always say it’s the worst club that you never want to be apart of. A parent should never have to lose their child. It’s something you never want to experience. It’s not right. You think that you’ll never be right again afterwards. Sometimes I think we’re still not right.”

Flew said she and her husband have “always had each other” and have helped each other through their “darkest days” but said another major source of encouragement and light in their lives has been the result of Dylan’s organ donation, which helped to save five lives.

Healing ‘something so negative’

“The best thing that has come out of it is that something positive has come out of something so negative. We’ve gotten to know two of the recipients and their families. Having recipients and knowing people’s lives have been saved has definitely helped. It’s been a healing.”

The Flews have met two of the recipients and their families, people who Kathi said are now “a second family,” so much so that they just celebrated her and her husband’s anniversary with one of the recipients, her “son.”

“He even calls me mama, which is funny because he’s 40-something — he’s not that much younger than I am,” she said with a laugh, adding how happy she is to have made the connections her son’s donation has given her.

Life Connection of Ohio and Hyway Trucking Company entered into a partnership over a decade ago, resulting in the life-saving message of organ donation traveling millions of miles with Dylan’s as its poster child.

The Flews were invited to a celebration of the past decade that was held at Hyway June 14 with Life Connection of Ohio, the organization that promotes and facilitates organ donation in northwest and west central Ohio. Truckside posters featuring Dylan’s picture and the message that donations save lives have appeared on Hyway’s fleet of 375 trucks for the past 10 years.

During that time, Dylan and the Donate Life message have traveled over 125 million miles, prompting the Flews to receive countless calls and picture messages of what’s been called “Dylan sightings.”

Dylan sightings

“For 10 years we’ve said they’ve been taking him along for the ride.”

Despite at first being hesitant about the idea of their son’s picture being plastered on the trucks, Flew said it’s turned into “quite an experience.”

“They said it’s pretty much unprecedented,” she said. “This has been one of their most successful campaigns. Everybody sees them and say they had a Dylan sighting. I get so many calls and messages — ‘Isn’t this your buddy?’ or friends of friends, people we don’t even know, from all over the country will send messages and say, ‘We saw Dylan.’”

She said she’s received five messages this week alone. 

Flew said her son’s picture has prompted more than messages; it has moved many to action, including her own family and friends. 

“None of us would have ever had that conversation (to register as organ donors),” she said. “But it’s not just our family. A lot of our friends and his friends have too. They said locally the registration rates went up immensely after his passing. It’s had a huge impact.”

Flew said she hopes to be able to give the same gift of “second chance at life” for someone like her son did and added that she thinks “everyone should register” because of the great need for organs and tissues.

“I always say I think signing up to be an organ donor is obviously a personal choice,” she said. “It would be a hard choice not knowing what a loved one wanted. The biggest thing is knowing what they want. You need to talk to your family. You have to discuss organ donation with your family. It can be such a positive thing. 

“You can be able to save someone’s life,” she added. “Unless you’re a surgeon or firefighter, you don’t get to do that, but Dylan did it five times in one day. They call organ donors heroes for a reason. I hope I get the chance to be an organ donor and be that hero for someone else’s son or daughter.”

Currently, there are more than 117,000 people on the National Transplant Waiting List, including more than 2,900 Ohioans. The organ shortage continues to grow at a staggering rate, as another person is added to the waiting list every 10 minutes. Sadly, each day 20 people die waiting for an organ transplant that never came. But one person has the power to save up to eight lives through organ donation and heal 50 more through tissue donation.

To register to be an organ donor, drivers can opt-in via license renewal with the DMV or by signing up at donatelifeohio.org.

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