Todd- Remembering his friend Mark (donor)
His name was Mark Jones and we grew up together. We were like brothers. He was a year ahead of me in school, but other than that, we were inseparable. The words that come to mind when I think of him: genuine, honest, trustworthy, heroic, immensely loyal. He was smart, really smart, but you’d never guess it because he was so down to earth. Money was irrelevant to him. He gave people money if they needed it. He’d give you the shirt off his back. His heart was gold. He was adopted, and he loved his family. He never went looking for his biological parents. Edsel and Robin were all the parents he needed or wanted.
Mark was a horrible basketball player. He just couldn’t shoot. He could do the rest – run, play defense. He didn’t care. He enjoyed the game. He was terrible at golf, too, but he played for the camaraderie. At the same time, he was a great athlete. He could run. He was strong. He loved his bicycle and his skateboard.
He lived life on his terms, by his rules. He went to college at UK, and I was at Western, down in Bowling Green. He’d show up on my doorstep out of the blue. He’d hitchhike down there and back. I’d look out and there’d be some family in a minivan dropping him off in front of my place. They would just pick him up on the interstate. It’s like they knew they could trust him.
Mark was a Staff Sergeant in the U. S. Army during Operation Desert Storm. He was living in a tent over in Saudi Arabia on Christmas Day in 1990, just before everything started.
My family was at my house in Alabama for the holiday. We’d just sat down to eat. I said grace, and then said, “I’d like to say a prayer for my friend Mark Jones, who’s in the Middle East right now, away from friends and family and waiting for a war to start.”
We began to eat; and the phone rang. My mom answered it, she just kept talking. I tried to figure out who called at dinnertime on Christmas Day. Then Mom said, “It’s Mark.”
He’d called collect, but we passed the phone around until everyone talked to him. It really didn’t matter – Mark was with us for Christmas.
After Desert Storm, Mark was stationed at Fort Campbell. My wife, Vicki, had business in Nashville, so she told him she’d pick him up and bring him to Huntsville for a visit with our family. He loved my son, and was really good to him.
Mark wouldn’t let Vicki pick him up at Fort Campbell. He said he’d meet her in Nashville, and he made his way there – probably hitchhiking. That night in Huntsville, we took him out to dinner and for drinks. He didn’t know a soul, but he didn’t know a stranger. Huntsville is a military town, and as soon as people realized he was a Desert Storm veteran, people clapped and cheered for him, shook his hand, bought him drinks, and talked to him like he was their best friend. It was a great night – a celebration of the American Spirit, and he never forgot it.
As I said, Mark lived life on his terms, and perhaps the best example of that is one day when he was working as an army recruiter in a bad neighborhood in Chicago. The recruiting station was in a little L-shaped strip mall. He and the officer working with him noticed something happening over in the part of the mall they face. They could tell something was off. Combat veterans, both of them, they weren’t afraid, so they moved in closer to check it out and realized they were watching a robbery in progress. They knew it would take a while for the police to arrive, so they grabbed the guys and held them prisoner until the police arrived. I believe the robbers were relieved to be transferred from the custody of the U. S. Army to the Chicago Police Department. That was typical Mark.
He loved the army, and had come home for a local recruiting position. He rode his bicycle everywhere. The morning of his accident, he was riding in the dark, listening to his Walkman with the earphones in. It was early on a Saturday morning, and he didn’t see the truck lights as he made a turn. He rode straight into a pick-up truck, flipped over the hood and landed on the windshield. He hit the back of his head on the glass, causing a closed head injury.
My dad heard about it and called me. By then, I was living in Lexington very close to UK Hospital, so I headed over to meet his father, Edsel.
He was alone and seemed relieved to see me. We talked for a while, reminiscing a bit to try to drive the worry away. The doctor showed up, fresh from surgery, still wearing the bloody scrubs, and explained that there was massive swelling, but that he was hopeful.
Edsel told the doctor to do whatever it took to save Mark’s life. The doctor disappeared, and we went back to waiting. The next day, the doctor came to talk to Edsel again. “We can’t do anything,” he said. I thought that meant Mark would have to do physical therapy at Cardinal Hill, learn to walk all over again. Then the floor dropped out.
“Have you thought about organ donation? I know he didn’t sign his license, but with family consent, we can still transplant his organs and save lives.”
I could tell that Edsel was as shocked as I was, but the Jones family believe in service and helping others. I could literally see Mark’s father working through the question, finally realizing that it could save lives – that Mark would want to save lives, even if he’d never thought to sign his license.
Knowing Mark, he’d probably just put it off because he wasn’t planning on dying anytime soon, and he felt undefeatable. He’d survived a war, rough Chicago, and a lifetime of hitchhiking. I’m sure he never imagined a pick-up truck in his in hometown sending him home to God. At thirty-two, he just expected not to have to worry about giving someone his organs. He thought he’d be using them himself for another forty years. But Mark, given the opportunity, would choose to save someone’s life. It didn’t matter that he’d never signed his license.
Edsel knew what to do. He called Robin, Mark’s mom, and she agreed immediately. She wanted Mark to become a donor, too.
The doctors explained that Mark would have artificial support to keep the blood and oxygen working through his organs while they matched his blood and tissue with transplant recipients. It gave his friends and family time to say goodbye.
The military service with the honor guard was beautiful. It was another day to say goodbye, although Mark was long gone. He’d lived life on his own terms; he died on his own terms. I hope, just for old time’s sake, the people who received his transplanted corneas, liver, kidneys, pancreas, and heart raise a little cain every now and then. It would make Mark happy to know they are living life on their terms.