The life of a 16-year-old Brownwood High School student ended June 5, 2005, after being injured the day before in a two-vehicle collision on the Brady Highway. But her memory — as well as her lungs — live on inside Lloyd Wilkins of Redwood City, Calif.
On Saturday, Wilkins and his wife, Ruth, were joined by members of Ashton Marie Goodenberger’s family and several dozen others to celebrate the life-sustaining organ transplants the teenager made possible.
With the assistance of Keep Brownwood Beautiful and the Texas Organ Sharing Alliance, a tree was planted and a memorial marker was dedicated in a green area at the intersection of Austin Avenue and Idlewild in Brownwood. The tree is a gift of appreciation from the Wilkinses.
“We are truly grateful that you are here to honor, to remember and to show your love for Ashton,” her mother, Mary Ann Goodenberger of Brownwood, said. “I hope we will use this day as a time for reflection, enlightenment and remembrance. This tree is the ideal tribute to the circle of life.”
Wilkins was one of five people who benefited from the Goodenberger family’s decision to allow Ashton’s organs to be donated.
Wilkins’ procedure was performed by The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio / University Hospital lung transplant program. Considered a high-risk case because of his condition — a terminal disease called idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis — Wilkins underwent the double-lung transplant June 6, 2005, at University Hospital, one of the Health Science Center's primary teaching hospitals.
“I think about Ashton every day, and what she did for me,” Wilkins said. “I think it’s a ripple-effect. Her lungs made it possible for me to live. I talk to others about needs that aren’t being fulfilled because people aren’t being asked. The more ripples we have in the water, the greater effect we can have… There’s a lot of love here today.”
Ruth Wilkins said her husband is celebrating his 65th birthday today.
“You’ve given my husband, my best friend, your love, your support and your help,” she said. “We’ll keep Ashton’s memory forever. I feel like I give Ashton a big hug every morning.”
Michelle Segovia, senior community relations coordinator for the Texas Organ Sharing Alliance in Austin, said 98,000 people in the United States are in need of organ transplants in order “to have a second chance at life. Talk to your families about it. We know that the decision is made easier when the time comes because families have talked about it.”
Last year, only 7,500 deceased donors were available in the United States, according to statistics provided by the Texas Organ Sharing Alliance.
In Texas, residents can sign up to be organ donors at the Web site, www.donatelifetexas.org. Many other states have similar sites, Segovia said.
Several speakers said the need for organ donors is so great, that it would be better if everyone was born an organ donor unless they sign something to decide otherwise.
The green area where the magnolia tree is planted was created after the intersection was redesigned as part of the Austin Avenue highway surface improvements recently completed.
“This area has been replanted by Keep Brownwood Beautiful volunteers as a gift of life to remind us all of the importance of organ donation,” Cary Perrin, KBB program coordinator, said in opening remarks.
Among those traveling from out-of-state to participate in Saturday’s ceremonies were Ashton’s father and stepmother, Perry and Terri Goodenberger of Winterset, Iowa.
Refreshments were provided by KBB and the Brownwood Human Rights Committee.