ToquiNotes: A Mother's Final Gift Proves to be One to Last Many Lifetimes and One That's No Coincidene

By Jeff Toquinto on October 14, 2017 from ToquiNotes via

Perhaps it was coincidence. JD Lister knows that’s in the realm of possibility even if he doesn’t believe it.
For Lister and his family and friends, coincidence will have to take a back seat. Riding up front is faith and belief and the promise of life in what Lister admits has been one of the worst weeks of his still relatively young life.
Yesterday, JD Lister said goodbye to his mother who passed away at the young age of 52 a week ago. A short day or mourning after a week of mourning was held at Burnside Funeral Home to celebrate the life of Gwendolyn Amber "Wendy" Lister and to allow for final goodbyes.
Yet something happened during the process that proves that life can continue in ways we often don’t think about. There are ways that Wendy Lister will provide a chance at life for others that has managed in some small ways to lift the cloud of grief that has hung over JD Lister, his family and Wendy’s  friends.
All of it set up by a set of circumstances the 30-year-old JD Lister, Wendy’s only child, believes were far from coincidence. Instead, he believes – for reasons he doesn’t know and knows he’ll never know on this earth – what took place with his mother’s passing and the situation surrounding it was guided by the hand of God.
We’ll get to that here shortly. First, it’s important to note that Wendy Lister came from good stock. Her mother and father helped raise JD. JD’s grandfather, Wendy’s father, was the late Harry Nehrig who many remember for his constant giving to the Bridgeport community and beyond on the emergency services front and more.
“My mother and I have a really cool relationship and it’s a result of how I was raised. In those early years, we had what would be like a friendship relationship and it wasn’t a bad thing,” said Lister. “After my grandfather passed away, we bonded on a different level. We developed and explored our relationship in a different way.
“She was really there for me and I was there for her. I was there when her mother, my grandmother, passed when I was just eight years old,” Lister continued.  “When my grandpa passed away, it was hard on both of us. We lived together for a while after that and leaned on each other from that day forward. Since that time we talked almost every day and communicated with each other every day and had I guess what you want and that’s a pretty perfect relationship.”
Last Saturday morning, that all ended. At least it ended as it had existed.
Lister isn’t certain of everything that transpired on what turned out to be a day to be forever etched in his mind. What he does know is that around 7:30 a.m. his mother left the house and didn’t have her phone with her.
“Maybe she knew something was wrong. She may have been going for help,” said Lister. “I just don’t know, but she always had her phone with her.”
What he does know is that his mother had suffered a brain aneurysm that led to cardiac arrest. And as it happened, the younger sister of a long-time friend (Zach Hillegas) was jogging by.
“Kelsey Hillegas was running by and saw her fall and she ran to a neighbor to get help,” said Lister.
The neighbors had medical training; one of which was a nurse and they immediately began doing CPR until medical help arrived.
“Had she ran by 10 seconds earlier or 10 seconds later, no one would have seen her fall. It’s very likely she would have laid there for who knows how long until she would have been found,” said Lister. “Knowing she ran past there just as it happened was the start of some crazy events that I didn’t even realize were important until later.”
Eventually, JD got a call from one of his mother’s neighbor telling him what was transpiring. He and his wife Abigail headed to United Hospital Center.
“They told us that her heart was working and she was breathing on the ventilator and that she was sedated,” said Lister. “At that point, they hadn’t checked for brain function, but explained what was going on … They said there was a chance she may survive, but the chances weren’t good.”
Once tests were ran at UHC showing the aneurysm, she was flown to Ruby Memorial. Lister and his wife drove north knowing that things were dire at best.
“The first thing they tell us when we got to Ruby is there is no brain activity; the brain stem had died. I know enough about the brain from teaching psychology to know what that meant,” said Lister.
Doctors informed Lister that they could keep his mother alive with a feeding tube and could breathe for her. That, however, wasn’t something he wanted and something he knew his mother wouldn’t want.
“They told me she may blink at us every once in a while, but wouldn’t know what was going on,” said Lister. “ … She wouldn’t want that and that led to having to make a very difficult decision to let her go.”
As all of this was mounting and throughout the process Lister was letting something sink in. A doctor explained to JD that his mother was an organ donor. He admits it was hard to facilitate what the doctor was explaining because he knew his mother was going to die and he was still trying to deal with it.
“My wife and I talked and my mother-in-law joined with the chaplain at Ruby and we talked,” said Lister. “We knew with my mother being a donor and being listed on the national registry that this was her wish so we went ahead.”
At this point, tests had to be done to make sure that Lister’s brain activity had, in fact, ceased. Once that proved to be the case, Lister was in contact with CORE (Center for Organ Recovery and Education) out of Pittsburgh.
“When the CORE member explained to me that everyone doesn’t meet requirements to be an organ donor and, in fact, few do because of so many factors I was surprised. At that time, she was still alive and they had to stabilize her blood pressure and her body,” said Lister. “It was a long enough process they told me to go home and gather myself.”
Before he left, he went to see his mother.
“Her body was there, but she wasn’t there anymore,” said Lister. “That was difficult in ways I can’t explain.”
The morning that began at 7:30 a.m. saw him return home at 9:30 p.m. The matter wasn’t over as the CORE team arrived as Lister was making his way back to Bridgeport. Eventually, he would meet with the group from CORE.
“They were amazing people and explained how mom met the criteria and the process that involved taking her to Pittsburgh and what would be done,” said Lister. “This was when they really explained just how rare it is, how the situation has to be, to harvest organs. I never thought about it like that. I figured if you were an organ donor you were likely to have organs donated when you pass, but that’s not the case.
“They put it in a way to grasp it,” he continued. “They say you can go an entire lifetime and not meet a donor family.”
From there, the process began. Lister agreed to have CORE call him when the organ harvesting was complete.  It was here that he realized how something amazing had happened. It was here that Lister realized that there was something positive to come from a situation that seemed bottomless and hopeless.
“They called and the first thing they did was check on me and my own grief process. The woman that called said ‘if you can take good news out of this, I want to share it with you.’ I needed good news and what she gave me was exactly that,” said Lister.
Lister’s mother’s heart couldn’t be used due to the cardiac arrest. But her heart and her lungs were going to be used for research. Lister then said the CORE representative told him something was taking place unlike anything she had witnessed.
“There was a 22-year-old female in Philadelphia whose liver was removed because it was so bad it was attacking her body. They didn’t think she would live to see morning,” said Lister. “Now, my mother’s liver pops up on the transplant list this young woman is on and it’s a match. To know that this 22-year-old who probably hours earlier, and her family, believed there was no chance at life now had a chance was amazing.
“I have a half-sister (Nicole Lister), my dad’s other daughter, who is a liver transplant survivor so I know there’s a chance this will work for the long haul,” he continued. “There’s a long road ahead of her and this news was the first time where I was trying to see some light in the entire ordeal and could actually see it.”
That wasn’t the end of it. Wendy Lister’s kidneys will go to a 64-year-old woman in Pittsburgh and a 66-year-old man, also in Pittsburgh.
“Those two could be grandparents and I thought quickly about my grandparents and my grandfather raising me and it touched me because they now at least have a chance to possibly spend more time with their own kids and grandchildren,” said Lister. “They will also use her skin for burn victims and they were able to harvest her eyes.”
At least three people now have a chance at life thanks to Wendy Lister. Other lives will have the chance to be enhanced and it all goes back to those “coincidences” that JD Lister talked about above.
If Kelsey Hillegas doesn’t run past at that time this may not have happened. Had she not gotten neighbors who had the medical training to keep her alive, it may not have happened. And had she never agreed to be a donor, it definitely wouldn’t have happened.
“That tells me God is working, even though I don’t understand why. Maybe God wasn’t doing it to me, maybe He was doing it for those who needed it,” said Lister. “That’s what I believe and it’s going to be hard to convince me otherwise.”
The mother who gave so much to her son from an ear to talk to and a shoulder to cry on and more gave again. It’s not lost on Lister.
“She gave in a whole new way. She gave others a chance at life. That’s pretty powerful,” said Lister. “I know people think everything is a coincidence, but I’ll stick with my faith that something bigger happened here. I have no doubt about that and no doubt she’s an angel.”
Eventually, JD Lister said he would hope one day to meet those who received his mother’s organs. If he does, he said he’ll be able to know his mother lives on in others. If he doesn’t or if the donations don’t work out, he’s okay with the fact his mother, at a minimum, gave others a chance for new and better life.
“I’m okay with this even though it was hard during that process,” said Lister. “As I said, this is bigger than me so I don’t want to try to comprehend it. I’ll just accept it as a gift from God.”
A fine gift indeed. One that will be shared by many. And one given and received that certainly is no coincidence.
Editor's Note: Top two photos show JD Lister with his mother Wendy during his wedding. In the third picture, JD and his mom are shown clowning around with a dog as JD said his mother loved and sat with dogs. Bottom photo, from 2010, shows JD at his graduation day with his mother and his late grandfather Harry Nehrigh. All photos courtesy of JD Lister.

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