Family reflects on miracle of giving, receiving organ and tissue gifts of hope  |  December 7, 2009

Julie has experienced the heartbreak, loss, hope and awe that come from being on both sides of organ and tissue donation. Her 17-year-old son became an organ and tissue donor after losing his life in a car accident. Shortly thereafter, Julie’s daughter became the recipient of an ankle transplant that relieved her from a lifelong debilitating condition.

“It’s ironic,” Julie said. “All of the sudden you’re looking at something from the exact opposite side. The fact that these things are possible on both ends … it really is a miracle.”

Julie Prangl and her children, Christmas 2006. Son Nick died 6 weeks later in a car accident and became an organ and tissue donor. Daughter Lindsey later received an ankle transplant. (Photo courtesy Julie Prangl)

Julie Prangl and her children, Christmas 2006. Son Nick died 6 weeks later in a car accident and became an organ and tissue donor. Daughter Lindsey later received an ankle transplant. (Photo courtesy Julie Prangl)

Nick Poto’s car crash came as a shock to Julie in February of 2007. She considered her son an excellent driver, yet also classified him as very adventurous and accident prone when not driving. When Julie received the call that Nick was in the hospital, she figured he’d just had another small mishap.

But her mood changed once she arrived at the hospital and was taken to speak with a neurosurgeon before being able to see Nick.

“It was an absolute sinking feeling,” she said.

Julie learned that Nick’s car had been t-boned by oncoming traffic and the impact had sheared his brain. Desperate attempts to relieve the swelling and pressure on his brain were unable to save him. 

When Julie was approached by the Gift of Hope Organ and Tissue Donor Network, she recalled Nick and her decision to sign him up as a donor when he had received his driver’s license.

 “He said ‘I suppose I have to sign up for this, because you recycle everything,’” Julie recalled with affection. “He always said he was going to make a difference in this world, I just never knew it was going to be like this.”

Nick’s gift of life resulted in 18 tissue and four organ transplants. Julie has found great solace in hearing from several of the recipients, including a father of four who received Nick’s heart.

“He wrote to me ‘although I don’t know you, I know that I love you. My heart tells me this,’” she said.

But even before Nick’s accident, Julie’s family had become intimately aware of the donation process. Her daughter Lindsey Poto, now 25, suffered from a congenital clubfoot anomaly, which resulted in a collapsed ankle and a progressively worsening condition. Lindsey was in a wheelchair with no use of the foot by the time she was a teenager.

Doctors said that Lindsey’s best hope was an ankle transplant. They put her on the transplant list, but knew that finding a bone match for an ankle would be especially difficult, as the size needed to match Lindsey’s body almost exactly.

Nevertheless, Julie’s family received the miracle they needed for Lindsey not once, but twice. Her first transplant was unsuccessful, but her second transplant, done nearly a year ago, has remained viable and for the first time in years Lindsey is able to walk without crutches or braces. Julie is thoughtful about seeing the marvel of donation come full circle.

“If you’re looking to receive, you must be willing to give,” she said.

Lindsey is a University of Iowa graduate and works as an account manager for a logistics company in Chicago. She has written a letter to the family that donated her ankle.

Julie said she still thinks of Nick each day.

“I’m so grateful that I have Nick’s gifts – it’s a comfort for me to know that he lives on in others. And someone else did the same to help Lindsey.”

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