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Inslee honors families of organ donors in Gift of Life Awards

When Ron Haight fell off the back of his pickup truck in his Long Lake driveway two years ago in February, it was, at first, almost ironic. Then tragically life-changing. And finally life-giving.

The fall was only a few feet. The former head of a family roofing business in Seattle, the 54-year-old Haight had worked atop many of the skyscrapers in that city, as well as the roof of Safeco Field. He’d written safety manuals for workers.

He broke his shoulder and hit his head in the fall. And though the fracture was clear to his wife, Diane, Ron said it really didn’t hurt. She took him to the hospital, where he lapsed into a coma and never awoke. The pain of the broken shoulder was blocked by the bleeding inside his skull, which caused the coma.

“He just hit his head wrong. In the blink of an eye, everything changes,” Diane Haight said. With Ron on life support, she followed her husband’s wishes to be an organ donor.

The Haights were among six Washington families receiving the Gift of Life Award on Tuesday from Gov. Jay Inslee, who was marking National Donate Life Month. Created in 1998, the award honors the donors and recognizes the sacrifices of the families who survive them. As he handed out the awards, Inslee said organs from the six donors saved the lives of 29 people.

Three were saved by Ron. Each of his kidneys went to a different recipient, and his lungs were transplanted into a Montana woman so close to death that the day Haight fell, she’d been sent home because doctors thought there was no hope. Two days later she was in a Seattle hospital receiving Ron Haight’s lungs, and not only survived but thrives, his mother Penny Haight said.

Ron and Diane had talked about being organ donors and had the designation on their driver’s licenses, so there wasn’t any question when the time came to make that decision, she said. But it can be a difficult discussion at a family’s worst time unless they talk about it beforehand, she said.

“It’s all about education,” Diane Haight said. “In your loss, life goes on.”

The family has met the recipient of Ron’s lungs and knows a part of him lives on in more ways than one. Like Ron, the recipient is athletic and loves the outdoors and hunting. And there’s one little quirky thing, Penny Haight said.

The recipient asked her once if Ron liked chocolate. Loved it, Penny Haight replied. “She told me ‘I’ve never liked it before, but now I can’t get enough of it.’ ”

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