There are over 100,000 people in the U.S. waiting for organ transplants. J.T. helped several people get off that list. Townsend/ Handout Photo
John “J.T” Townsend V was nine. He loved race-cars and demolition derbies. Jimmie Johnson was his favorite NASCAR driver, and his favorite color was blue. Unlike typical nine-year-olds, he understood cars and heavy machinery.
J.T. was killed in a horrific roll-over car crash in April of 2013 with his mother Katherine Rene Adams Townsend after another motorist ran a stop sign.
J.T. and his mother were organ donors. At any given time there are over 100,000 people on the waiting list for organs in the United States, with people being added every day, and taken off because of successful transplant or death.
According to the American Transplant Foundation, an average of 18 people die a day from no organ transplant. Katherine and J.T. helped change those stats. Townsend/ Handout
“Townsend”, 46, owner of Marion Metal Works in Ocala, J.T.’s father and Katherine’s husband, recounted this event as the worst day of his life.
“Nothing can prepare you for something like this,” he said. “There are a lot of sleepless nights, and you almost become a different person.”
According to Townsend, as tragic as this day was for him, it was an easy decision to donate his families’ organs. It was important to him that other people could be helped even though he had suffered such a loss.
“I stood over my boy and my wife, and I just prayed that God’s will be done,” he said. “I knew in my heart that it was God’s will that their organs be used to save someone’s life.”
Emma Townsend, 14, J.T’s sister, was the only survivor of the tragic wreck.
“People look at us and we don’t look any different, they think there would be nothing wrong,” she said. “Most people won’t ever have to go through something like this.”
“It takes time,” she said. “But things are getting better.”
Since the accident, Townsend has worked to raise support for organ donation at demolition derbies. He makes speeches and tells his story in the hopes that the people in attendance will understand the importance of the cause.
There is no way to justify the loss suffered, but it takes off a large part of the burden to know that there was at least some good to come out of the tragedy, he said.
“If there were two things my boy loved it was the Florida Gators and crashing cars,” he said. “It never gets easier, I miss him every day.”
There is a great deal of privacy involved for both parties in organ donation, Townsend said. There are many factors to take into consideration when it comes to the identity and the safety of both parties involved. The most obvious concern with both parties meeting is that one side experienced a loss, and the other side benefits from that.
Yvette was the recipient of J.T’s right kidney. After about a week of communication Yvette got to meet Townsend and Emma. Her last name has been omitted to protect her privacy.
“I wrote to Yvette originally,” he said. “I waited a while but I wanted to reach out and let the recipients know that it was ok to contact me and it was ok if they didn’t.”
“I was relieved when I got Townsend’s letter,” she said. “I wanted to write them, but didn’t know the right time, so when he wrote first it took all the pressure off.”
According to Townsend, he and Yvette really got along through the letters they exchanged through Trans-life, the organization responsible for placing the organs with the proper recipients.
“It was really emotional to read the letter she sent back to us,” Townsend said, as he held a tear-stained hand written letter in blue ink. “I could tell we were going to become close, we had a lot in common.”
“We took Yvette to her first demolition derby when we met her,” Townsend said. “It’s kind of funny to think we had someone who just had a kidney transplant at a demolition derby.”
Emma said Yvette looked a little shocked at first. “She definitely didn’t look like she had ever been to anything like that before.”
Yvette’s doctors failed to give her an answer as to why her kidney failed. Shortly after her fiancé died she started having complications with her kidneys that ended in failure. In her opinion, stress played a major role in her kidney failure.
She waited three and a half years on the list before getting the call that she would receive J.T.’s kidney. In those years, she underwent an extremely difficult dialysis regiment.
“When I got the call that a kidney had become available, I didn’t get my hopes up at first,” she said. “I underwent Peritoneal Dialysis four times-a-day, and it started to wear on me.”
“There were times on the dialysis that I would just go hungry because I would vomit everything I ate if I took the medication,” she said.
It’s been a year and a half since Yvette received the kidney, and everything is going well, but it’s been a struggle.
“People don’t realize that it requires a life change when you get an organ,” she said. “Things that people don’t even think about, the flu, can kill you after the procedure because the drugs kill your immune system.”
According to Yvette, she has a teaching degree in Special Education that she is unable to use due to the risk of sickness around kids.
“I don’t think I’m over-cautious about getting sick,” she said. “They told me the life of the kidney was 10 to 15 years, so I’m just trying to make sure I do things right.”
Emma even admits that Yvette’s healthy lifestyle is contagious.
“Now, I even wear a mask at school sometimes,” she said. “People don’t realize how easy it is to avoid getting sick.”
Townsend, Emma and Yvette’s hope for people is to understand how important being an organ donor is. Something so simple can save lives.
“My son was a well-known and loved kid,” he said. “It was because of his sacrifice and sacrifices like his that let other people like Yvette to live, he was a hero.”
Townsend, Emma and Yvette will be in attendance to the “CRASH-A-RAMA” race series in Orlando on November 28. They will be raising awareness for organ donation with one of the races in memorial for J.T, the John H. Townsend V Donate Life Memorial Skicar Race.
At this event it is possible more recipients of J.T. and Katherine’s organs will be in attendance and Townsend will get a chance to speak with more of the people his family has helped.
“The proof is in the pudding,” he said. “It’s easy to say it’s important to be an organ donor, but when you get to meet people like Yvette and the others it puts a face to the idea.”