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National Pediatric Transplant Week: Remembering Austin

National Pediatric Transplant Week is an observance that takes place the last full week of National Donate Life Month in April. It focuses on the powerful message of ending the pediatric transplant waiting list. Currently, more than 1,900 children under the age of 18 are on the national transplant waiting list. Five hundred (500) of those children waiting for transplant are between the ages of one and five years old.

Every day, as miracles happen and lives are saved though the selfless act of donation, we stop to recognize the strength and generosity of the families whose children were pediatric donors, and often the donors themselves who, although not old enough to make a legally binding decision to donate, may have talked with their families about donation.

Austin Dukette was the life of every party. He drew people in with his bright smile and contagious laugh. He was a talented artist and musician who loved to write and perform his own songs on his guitar. He lived his life with kindness, forgiveness and loyalty.

Tragically, in 2014, while riding his bike to his 4th day of high school, Austin was struck from behind by a distracted driver. As grief overwhelmed Austin's family, his parents knew Austin could leave a lasting legacy by becoming an organ donor. He was able to save the lives of four people through his donation.

About two weeks before Austin’s accident his mom, Stephanie, was reading a Readers Digest article on unique ways to use a loved one’s cremains. She read that you could have cremains used in a tattoo and recalled that Austin said, “Now that would be cool.” Stephanie and Greg, Austin’s dad, told him he could do whatever he wanted with their cremains, but that they would want to be organ donors.  He said emphatically, "Oh yeah, me too!"

It was because of that conversation that Stephanie and Greg knew organ donation would have been Austin’s choice.

As for Austin’s cremains, Stephanie and Greg have a small amount of them in their tattoos, that they got in
memory of their son.  From the broken pieces of Austin’s ukulele came the piece on Stephanie’s arm: the lotus flower, peace sign, mandala and tree of life. Greg’s tattoo came from the lyrics in one of Austin’s songs that said, ‘As I stand in a field of weeds, a flower turns to face me’ and also was inspired by the sunrise on the day they found out that all four of the transplants were successful.

Stephanie and Greg have found joy in correspondence from the recipients of Austin’s donations. They also had the opportunity to meet Austin’s heart recipient, who was born with a heart defect and spent time in and out of the hospital since she was three-years-old. She now is a healthy teenager making the most of her second chance at life and carries a piece of Austin everywhere she goes.

Thanks to heroes like Austin, nationally in 2020, there were 860 pediatric organ donors that resulted in 1,766 pediatric transplants. To learn more about National Pediatric Transplant Week and how you can help, visit https://www.donatelife.net/pediatric-transplant-week/.

To register your decision to save and heal lives, visit www.lifelinkfoundation.org.