RUSHFORD, Minn. - What seemed like a headache at first was actually a brain hemorrhage, likely from a brain aneurysm. Carolyn Johnson didn't feel well during a shopping trip with her daughter the Saturday before Christmas. Once they were home, she collapsed, unresponsive, and an ambulance was called.
Doctors revived her vital signs, but she was without oxygen for roughly 40 minutes. On Sunday afternoon, she was pronounced dead. "We never questioned it; We didn't think twice," says Carolyn's husband Mark about the decision to donate his wife's organs. Her death was untimely, but organ donation was always Carolyn's wish.
In October, Carolyn shared a video on her Facebook page of an organ donor's 'Walk of Respect,' where all available staff lined the hallways to honor the organ donor as they were wheeled into the operating room. Just two months later, Carolyn had a 'Walk of Respect' of her own at Gundersen Health System in La Crosse, Wis. Her daughter Paige Martin-Stanley shared the video on Facebook and as of Friday, it has nearly 30,000 views. "That's the reason why I decided to post the video that I did on my Facebook of her tribute in hopes to inspire others to think about organ donation and to honor her," says Paige.
In the early morning hours of Wednesday, December 26th, the Johnson family said goodbye to their loving wife and mother. "The best. The best mother, daughter, wife, sister. We couldn't ask for more. She was our life and I know we were hers. She was very, very, very special," Mark describes his wife. Due to the oxygen deprivation, her lungs and heart were not able to be donated, but her kidneys and liver were. Because kidneys can be donated as a pair or on their own, the family expects Carolyn gave organs to either 2 or 3 people. "Lives were saved this Christmas because of her," says Mark.
The donation process is anonymous at the moment, but the Johnson family wants to get in contact with Carolyn's organ recipients and hopefully even meet them. "We are going to reach out with a letter to tell them the kind of person she was and how proud we are of her and we wish them the best," explains Mark.
Carolyn's husband, children, and son-in-law are registered organ donors on their driver's licenses. In sharing the story of their wife and mother's sudden and tragic death, they hope others will do the same in honor of Carolyn. When people ask Mark what they can do to help his family during this trying time, he tells them "You can register to be a donor."
"When you go renew your license, if it's something you think you'd be interested in... and talking to your friends and family if that's a wish you could see wanting to do," adds Paige.
The Johnsons are planning a visitation January 4th and funeral January 5th for Carolyn in Rushford.
Paige wrote in her Facebook post in tribute of her mother, "She will forever live on both spiritually forever in our hearts as well as physically in the bodies of the people she gave the ultimate gift of life too. This is so important to my family because her presence in our lives has been and always will be our ultimate gift." To view the post and video of Carolyn's Walk of Respect, click here.