“Ryan died April 7, 2007. My head knows this as fact, but my heart is still waiting for my boy to come home.” Ryan’s mother Pat cries for him every night. They shared a special closeness and a love of people, especially small people.
Ryan never met a stranger and his friends said his constant smile was their favorite part about him. They could be having a down day, but after being with Ryan they felt good. He would introduce his mother to his friends this way: “This is my Mom. She’s cool!” He was fun, funny and never used dark humor to run someone else down. He was comfortable in his skin, confident and okay with himself and who he was.
Ryan Joseph was born in Louisville, KY, March 24, 1988. He was the middle child, younger brother to Chris and older brother to Kelly. He was 6 when the family moved to Cape Girardeau, MO. Three years later the family settled in Springfield, IL. It wound up being the place Ryan called home for the longest period in his life, although Louisville was always home and he’s buried there in Resthaven Cemetery about a mile from where the family lived the first six years of his life.
Ryan excelled in art and later his teacher told him when he was graduating from high school that he should consider a degree in art education. He was great with kids and one of his part-time jobs was a monitor in the after-school program at a private church school.
His passions began with skateboarding, followed by guitar lessons and several guitars and amplifiers, and ultimately cars. At various times Ryan owned up to 7 cars. He would make modifications on them regarding air flow and exhaust systems. He repainted the interior trim on his ’98 Hyundai Tiburon, which still sits in the family driveway. His project car was “Delores”, an ’89 Honda Civic, and it was his primary commuter car to work and school. His pride and joy was the 2000 Honda Civic SI, with the V-Tech engine, which he and his mother bought in December, 2006, and he had his accident in 4 months later.
It is not known what caused Ryan’s car to veer into the oncoming traffic. There was no excessive speed, bad weather, use of cell phone, smoking, drugs or alcohol. Witnesses said he simply drifted over the line. He was on his way to work a little past 4:30pm on Good Friday, April 6, 2007. He had dropped off his sister and girlfriend within the hour before the crash. The two-car, head-on collision totaled both vehicles and broke the heel of the oncoming driver. Traffic was tied up on the two-lane road for hours. The first responders struggled for 45 minutes to remove the roof of Ryan’s car and extricate him from the wreckage. One fireman was able to climb inside the mangled car to administer oxygen and speak to Ryan to calm him down, although he was never fully conscious after the accident.
There were other injuries, but Ryan was declared brain dead within 24 hours. Gift of Hope was on the scene in the hospital and was available to discuss organ and tissue donation when Ryan’s family was ready. The recovery process took place on Easter Sunday, April 8, 2007. The idea of being a donor was Ryan’s idea. He had spoken with his mother about it, coincidentally, not long before his accident. When she protested about the desecration of her baby’s body, he just said: “Mom, what sense does it make not to?”
Of course, there is no desecration of the donor’s body. Ryan’s gifts of organ and tissue presently have helped 61 recipients in at least 12 states and Korea. Five more items await distribution in AlloSource tissue banking facilities in Denver and San Diego. While one might say that Ryan’s work is finally done, it isn’t. Ryan’s kind of legacy will go on and on for generations in the people’s lives that he saved or improved. They will go on to have families and/or to remain alive and connected with their families. The ages of Ryan’s recipients range from 4 months to 83 years of age. They live in Illinois, California, Utah, Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota, Ohio, Texas, Georgia, Wisconsin, Missouri and New Jersey, as well as Korea.
“Enjoy every sandwich” was Ryan’s credo. “Giving Without Reward” was the sermon title of a pastor in Springfield, IL, on the morning of November 13, the National Donor Sabbath. Becoming a donor is the most selfless thing an individual can do, and it can have the most significance of anything an individual will ever do. Who knows how many lives are touched by a single recipient’s life-saving or life-enhancing transplanted organ or tissue? It fans way beyond the individual donor or recipient. Then, multiply that times the total number of recipients, and the numbers could be staggering.
Further, Ryan has a scholarship in his name at Lincoln Land Community College, where he was a second-semester freshman in the automotive tech program when he died. To date, there have been four winners of the Ryan J. Landers Memorial Scholarship in Automotive Technology. His primary instructor had the idea and contributes funds to it as does Ryan’s family.
Ryan’s family could not imagine anything helping them more to get through their loss and grief than knowing of the powerful gifts of life that Ryan gave to so many others. Families try to teach their children how to live, but Ryan taught his family how to die.