Ever since he was a toddler, Brody Austin of Clinton, Wisconsin, believed he was Superman. Even as a grown man, he wore his Superman cape on a regular basis. His theory was if he could just get high enough, he could fly.
“We went to the emergency room many times when he was little, because that just didn’t work out,” says his mother, Megs Emanuel.
After he died in a motorcycle accident at age 19, Brody became a different kind of superhero — an organ donor.
Just a few weeks after Brody received his motorcycle license in April 2015, he went riding with friends. During the ride, he lost control of his bike and it flipped over. Though he had been wearing a helmet and all the appropriate riding gear, Brody was badly injured. His parents received a call from one of his friends and rushed to Mercy Hospital and Trauma Center in Janesville, where he was being treated
“I was well aware of the odds of surviving a motorcycle accident,” says Megs. “I knew it wasn’t going to be good at all.”
Brody remained on life support in the intensive care unit as nearly 200 family members and friends came by to visit. When Megs and Brody’s father, Steve, realized he was not going to recover, they brought up the subject of organ donation and were relieved to learn he had just registered as an organ donor when he received his motorcycle license. He died on April 26, 2015, and on April 28 (National Superhero Day) was able to donate all of his organs to people with life-threatening diseases.
“Probably the most difficult part was leaving the hospital,” says Megs. “We sat in the parking lot for an hour or two. It was gut-wrenching.”
Shortly after losing her son, Megs was searching on the UW Health Transplant Program website for words to help her process her loss, and she came upon information about volunteering for the program. She first helped at a UW Organ and Tissue Donation (UW OTD) silent auction, and was amazed at how many people spoke to her about her son.
“To have him be a person to them and not just body parts was wonderful,” she says. “It made my heart just swell.”
Since then, she has volunteered her time at a large educational in-service for UW Health Transplant program physicians and staff. She also has participated in several consent workshops at hospitals, where nurses and other staff members practice having crucial conversations with families about organ donation. After they interact with actors playing the part of grieving family members, she gives them feedback on their approach.
She has heard from several of the people who received Brody’s organs and tissue, including Paul Loper, the man who received his heart. In September 2015, Megs, her daughter Alex and her grandson met Paul at University Hospital and listened to Brody’s heartbeat.
“It was raw and emotional and uplifting, all at once,” says Megs.
She now trades regular e-mails and text messages with Paul. Alex will receive some of Brody’s donor tissue when she undergoes anterior cruciate ligament (ACL surgery) in October.
Through volunteering and keeping in contact with Brody’s recipients, Megs has been able to keep Brody’s memory alive. Known as the jokester of the family, he was dedicated to working out and hoped to open his own gym one day. He played football and wrestled in high school, and he loved to tell stories that would leave people guessing as to their truth.
“Brody was everybody’s friend,” says Megs. “I was amazed at how many lives he touched. I know that my son is still making a difference.”