When we first met Royce and Keri Young in February, they were preparing to welcome their terminally ill daughter, Eva, into the world. Knowing Eva’s life would be but a whisper, the Young’s weighed all of their equally heartbreaking options before making a final decision on how to handle the next few months.
“The mission was simple,” Royce wrote on April 27. “Get Eva to full-term, welcome her into this world to die, and let her give the gift of life to some other hurting family.”
Even though baby Eva was continuing to grow in the womb, she was missing a substantial part of her brain. She was diagnosed with anencephaly, a rare birth condition that meant Eva would be unable to sustain life for longer than a few moments — a few days, at best.
As Keri’s due date approached, the Young’s worked with a team of medical professionals to plan out Eva’s birth and subsequent organ donation. But, as many birth stories go, the best-laid plans don’t always come to fruition.
It was Sunday, April 16, when Keri Young knew something was wrong with her now full-term baby. The absence of Eva’s frequent jabs and kicks sent Keri and Royce to the hospital, where doctors confirmed what the grieving parents already knew in their hearts.
“There was no heartbeat,” Royce explained. “Eva was gone before we ever got to meet her.”
The chance for Eva to be an organ donor was gone. The idea that Royce and Keri would one day embrace the recipients of Eva’s organs was replaced with a painful emptiness, a profound sense of loss.
Clouded with crippling disappointment that their baby would never even take a breath, Keri and Royce braced for the birth of their stillborn daughter. Doctors induced Keri, and the couple waited out what Royce described as “the darkest, most painful hours of our lives.”
“We had tried to do everything right,” Royce expressed, “tried to think of others, tried to take every possible step to make this work.” Yet, nothing had gone as hoped, and Eva’s body came into the world as expected.
As nurses gently began to wash the babe, the couple’s doctor turned to them and delivered an unexpected, astounding piece of news. Eva’s organs could not be donated, but there was someone’s life she was about to change.
“I’m on the phone with LifeShare,” Dr. Pinard said with a smile. “They have a recipient for Eva’s eyes.”
The couple dissolved into tears of relief — even joy — as the heavy weight of despair momentarily lifted off their shoulders. Royce recalled the overwhelming emotions that flooded through his body as he processed the news:
“It’s a weird thing to say that in probably the worst experience of my life was also maybe the best moment of my life, but I think it was the best moment of my life,” Royce expressed. “The timing of it all is just something I can’t explain.”
Already, Eva’s life has proven to be groundbreaking for infant organ donation in terms of eye donation, specifically. Because of her, organ transplant organizations across the country can now follow “Eva Protocol” when setting up future eye transplants.
“People from around the world have sent us messages telling us they’ve signed up to be organ donors, because of Eva,” Royce wrote. “She’s the first ever — not baby, but person — in the state of Oklahoma to donate a whole eye, and she donated two.”
While the wound of Eva’s loss still runs deep, Royce and Keri hold fast to their faith, believing that God’s sovereign hand is at work. Royce wrote about a new dream that has since sprouted in his heart — the dream that one day, he will get to look into his daughter’s eyes.
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