Christian Shay Nelson was born April 20, 1994. On that day, Christian became the first child to his parents, the first grandchild in the family and even the first great-grandchild. Being a "first” would become a pattern for Christian in life and after.
On May 29th 2013, Christian started the day like any other. He had just completed his second semester at SLCC and was trying to earn extra money by picking up hours at his part-time job. He enjoyed his job of working in a warehouse. He believed the physical labor would help to keep him in shape and he also liked the solitude and independence that the work offered.
It was a Wednesday around lunchtime. I got a voicemail from the warehouse manager. Christian had been in an accident and I needed to call back right away. I immediately sensed that something was seriously wrong. Christian was 19, so why would they call me if he had cut his finger? When I called back, I could hear it in her voice as she told me Christian had fallen. No one was really sure exactly what happened, but he was unconscious and unresponsive to the paramedics.
"Where are they taking him?” I asked. "They have not decided yet”. They were trying to locate the best neurosurgeon, though I did not know it. "Lourdes!” she said. I hung up and called his Mom to explain to her what happened and that I was on my way to pick her up. I knew she would be frantic and I didn’t want her to drive.
We arrived at the hospital and were greeted by the Chaplain. We were taken to the emergency room where the doctor explained the severity of Christian’s injuries. I remember the words "extensive”, "severe” and "grim”. The best neurosurgeon was on his way to operate. We were taken to see him. It was heartbreaking. He was unresponsive. But there was hope. The surgeon explained the injuries and did what he could. Christian made it through surgery, but we were told that his chances were very slim. Within 24 hours of his accident, we received the news that Christian’s brain was not receiving oxygen and all activity had stopped. Just like that, he was gone.
One of the ICU nurses asked if Christian was an organ donor. I wasn’t sure, but his Mom said yes. She had been with him the day he got his driver’s license. He asked her what it was and she gave a brief explanation. His response was simple: "Why wouldn’t you do that?” and proceeded to check the box. We then met with representatives of LOPA who explained the process and made sure we wanted to go through with it. It was his wish. It was his way. Putting others first was his nature. So we agreed.
The process took about a day. We stayed with Christian and held on to every last second with him. He had been taken too soon. There must be a mistake. How could this happen to him? To us?
While Christian was waiting for his organ surgery, Our Lady of Lourdes raised the Donate Life Louisiana flag. This ceremony was the first flag-raising at the new Our Lady of Lourdes campus. Christian’s pattern of being a first strikes again!
Four lives were saved through Christian’s organ donations. Two people now have sight. Countless others have benefited from his tissue. And that really is just the beginning to the second chapter of Christian’s story. His act of donation is becoming a beacon for others to follow.
In an uncanny stroke of fate, Christian’s heart recipient had been a very public story during his time on the transplant list. 17 year old Kaylon Marshall had been an all-state football player and has a magnetic personality. Those two things made him a natural at attracting media attention about his medical condition and need for a heart transplant. He waited about a year and a half, and during that time made several appearances on New Orleans television. So the media was there to do a follow-up story once he received a new heart.
We saw Kaylon’s story and knew right away that the heart beating in his chest was Christian’s. But this was not the traditional way for donor and recipient families to come together. After a few discussions with both families, we were given confirmation that Christian’s heart was giving Kaylon a second chance at life. Soon, the two families shared a phone call. Then a face to face meeting at Ochsner was set. Finally, we met Kaylon and his family! The emotional experience was unlike any other. Being able to hear Christian’s heart beating so strongly was overwhelming. Immediately following our meeting, both families joined hospital staff, LOPA staff and regional media for a Donate Life flag-raising ceremony at Ochsner. This was the first such flag- raising at Ochsner, yet another first for Christian!! Considering that Ochsner is the ONLY pediatric heart transplant facility in the state, this is truly an amazing first!
Hopefully we will have the opportunity, over time, to connect with the other recipients. But through our experience with Kaylon, we have been able to clearly see the legacy of life created by Christian. Countless people have told us that they have become organ donors specifically because of Christian. We will continue to work to educate and inform as many as we can, in Christian’s honor, of the importance of organ and tissue donation.
Christian will forever be in our hearts. He is loved by many. Christian had a personality and smile that would light up a room. He was fun, easy-going, generous, and so very kind. He was a great big-brother to Cameron and Caroline. His mom, Jenn, and I are proud to call him our son. Now, we are proud of his legacy. His love for music will live on in our hearts forever. And so will the sound of him playing his guitar.