After heartbreaking loss, firefighter’s organ decision worth emulating
There are few things as unbearably heartbreaking as losing loved ones in a matter of days. Chicago Firefighter Walter Stewart’s 7-year- old son, Ezra, died just a day after a blaze broke out in the family’s Northwest Side home last Tuesday.
Stewart’s 36-year- old wife, Summer DayStewart, took her last breath less than 24 hours later.
Before the week was over, the couple’s 2-year- old son, Emory, and 9-year- old daughter, Autumn, also succumbed to their injuries.
Navigating grief of such magnitude is incomprehensible, and Stewart’s life will never be the same. But in the midst of his initial shock and sorrow, he made the honorable decision to try and prolong the lives of others by agreeing to donate his family’s organs.
Stewart could have opted to donate his wife’s organs even if she hadn’t registered with the Secretary of State Organ/Tissue Donor Registry. In the case of the couple’s minor children, it was solely up to Stewart — the surviving parent — to ultimately choose for their organs to be used as transplants.
When the firefighter-EMT tried to resuscitate his wife at the smoke-infested scene last week, his actions were both an exercise in bravery and devotion.
His subsequent, quick-thinking move to help strangers is an extension of that heroism and love — and a reminder of the importance of organ donation.
Organ donation, a cause long championed by now-retired Secretary of State Jesse White, continues to be an issue highlighted by White’s successor, Alexi Giannoulias.
While there are 7.5 million Illinoisans registered as organ donors, 300 people die each year in the state because of a shortage of organs.
More residents, especially those from communities of color who are disproportionately affected by illnesses such as hypertension and diabetes, must step up: The long-term survival of transplant recipients in many cases may be greater if the donor and recipient share the same ethnic background.
People of color comprise 64% of the waiting list for organ transplants in Illinois, but they only represented 40% of those who donated organs last year, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing.
No one wants to think about dying or saying goodbye to a close relative.
But when it does happen, donating organs can give others hope and bring new meaning to what it means to be alive.