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Iowa Donor Network: Organ donation from 30-year-old Iraq veteran benefited 60 people

From the 64 heartwarming and inspiring stories about North Iowans in 2018 series
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Organ donation

Kate Howard of Davenport holds a photo of her late husband, Justin Lockett, who died after falling down steps in 2014. Donation of his organs saved five lives, and Howard organizes annual fundraisers to support the Iowa Donor Network in its effort to get more people registered as potential organ donors.

Justin Lockett was just 30 years old and in the prime of his life when he fell down some steps and hit his head. He never regained consciousness.

Two days after the fall, as his wife and soul mate, Kate, stood by his side in an Iowa City hospital room, the machines to which he was attached sounded an alarm.

Lockett's vital functions had been declining hourly since he was flown to Iowa City from a Davenport hospital emergency room, and the alarm indicated brain activity had ceased.

On May 5, 2014, Lockett — an Army National Guard veteran of Iraq, a summa cum laude graduate of Western Illinois University-McComb and a fan of fishing, golf and poker — lost his life.

But because the Davenport man was an organ donor, other people found life.

His heart, liver, pancreas and both kidneys and lungs were removed and transplanted, saving five lives, said Kate Howard, now remarried.

His corneas gave sight to two people.

More than 50 people stood to benefit from his gift of bone and connective tissue, according to the Iowa Donor Network, the nonprofit organization that coordinates organ donations and transplants in Iowa.

And four years later, Howard continues to advocate for organ donation in Justin's memory.

On Saturday, May 5, she organized her fourth annual Rusty Revolution, a fundraiser event held at Pub 1848, at Bass Street Landing in Moline, that netted $9,000 for the Iowa Donor Network to be used for donor awareness.

The money provides materials for volunteers to use in speaking to clubs or schools about organ donation as well as grief resources and special events for donor families. It also funds after-care materials for recipients, encouraging them to tell their stories, said Tony Hakes, public outreach manager for the donor network.

The event Howard sponsors is called "Rusty" because that was Justin's nickname from his junior high days when "Justy" somehow became "Rusty," and "Revolution" because she wants to bring about a revolution in which many more people register to become organ donors, she explained.

Her first event in 2015, held at O'Keefe's, her and Justin's favorite bar, raised $7,000. The next two years brought in $8,500 each, for a four-year total of $33,000.

That amount is one of the largest single-family donations in the state, Hakes said.

People attending the fundraiser pay "admission" for a commemorative glass: This year the design said "4th annual Rusty Revolution" (with the triangular recycle symbol taking the place of the "o" in revolution) and the words "Recycle Yourself."

Last year it was, "Who wouldn't want a piece of this?", representing a bit of humor in the organ donation community.

With the glass comes free beer for four hours, music (sometimes a deejay, sometimes a band), a bags tournament, a 50-50 raffle and a silent auction of gift baskets solicited from businesses. About 200 people attended this year's event.

Hearing from recipients

Immediately after the transplants in 2014, Howard was eager to hear from the people who had received Justin's organs. "I know better now," she said. "I don't fully understand it, but they have guilt. They know a loved one passed away, and they don't know what to say."

The procedure is for the donor's family to reach out to the recipients first. Howard did that, writing to "every single one of them." She heard back from several, including an 83-year-old cornea recipient named Frances.

"Dear Donor Family," begins the letter that Howard keeps among her things. "There is no way I can thank my donor for the way it has changed my life.

"I am a grandmother, but I used to be a school librarian. I am an avid reader and have really missed being able to go on an adventure through books.

"My gratitude is never ending."

Becoming a donor

For Justin, the decision to become an organ donor was made when he was a teenager getting his first driver's license, Howard said. A clerk asked him if he wanted to be a donor, and when he said yes, the preference was indicated on his license with a "Y" next to "organ donor."

It was as simple as that.

And about 15 years later, five strangers received the gift of life.


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