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Life Saver: 5 people receive organs after Kevin Theurer II's fatal truck collision

Kevin Theurer II, pictured in this undated photo as a player for the Dickinson Midgets, lost his life after rear-ending a semi Jan. 24. His family decided to donate his organs and five lives will be saved because of that decision. Many more will be improved with the donation of tissue.1 / 2
Kezley Theurer sits on her dad, Kevin Theurer I, at their home in Dickinson on Friday. Big Kevin's first born, Kevin Theurer II, passed away Jan. 25 due to injuries sustained in a vehicle collision Jan. 24 north of Dickinson. Big Kevin is wearing bracelets made to honor the memory of his son.2 / 2

In losing his life in a fatal vehicle collision Jan. 24, Kevin Theurer II gave five other lives a fighting chance.

His father, Kevin Theurer I, decided to donate his firstborn son's organs and tissue after learning that he would not wake up.

"Once we found out that he was brain dead -- once it sunk in that he wasn't coming out of it -- that's when I decided that we should try to help other people," Big Kevin said.

Little Kevin's sister, Courtney, felt it was an easy decision to donate her big brother's organs.

"I knew that if he wasn't going to live that it would be no question to save other people's lives," she said.

There are more than 100,000 people in the U.S. at any given time waiting for an organ, said Becky Ousley, senior public relations coordinator for Life Source, the organ donation agency for North Dakota, Minnesota and South Dakota. There are more than 3,000 people waiting for organs in those three states.

"Anytime that there is opportunity for someone to give their organs or tissue for transplant, our staff comes to the hospital and works with that family to support them through that process and give them the information that they need," she said.

Those in need of an organ are placed on a national registry and are ranked by need, Ousley said. When a donor match is found, those at the top of the list are prepared for surgery.

On the other end, a representative from the hospital or Life Source contacts the family to find out their wishes when a loved one dies or is near dying, she said. They will be checked for any possible matches on the list of those waiting for organs.

The hospital was the first to contact the Theurers about donating the 20-year-old's organs on the evening of Jan. 24, Big Kevin said. Feeling it was too soon, Life Source representatives were a bit upset with St. Alexius Medical Center, where Little Kevin was taken after his accident, but Big Kevin made the decision Friday evening.

"If you don't know anything about the process, they approach you so quickly because the organs start to deteriorate," aunt Penney Theurer said. She and her husband, Big Kevin's brother Michael, came up from their suburban Austin, Texas, home to be with the family.

Anyone can be an organ donor and there are no restrictions in age, Ousley said. Because it works with a national program, a donor's organs can go anywhere in the U.S.

"We've had people who have been organ donors into their 90s in the United States from babies who are a few days old," she said.

Finding a match not only matters in blood type, but in size, Ousley said. A child can't receive an adult-sized organ, and even among adults, organs need to fit.

Little Kevin went into surgery to have his organs recovered early Sunday morning, where they were then brought to the intended recipients.

Once the surgery is complete, the receiver begins recovery and the donor is laid to rest.

"We're not done serving families once those organs have been donated," Ousley said. "We serve them for the months and years following the death with opportunities to honor and remember their loved one."

The 'miracle' of matching

It will be seven years this June since Kathy Zimmerman of Bismarck received a liver and kidneys from a 38-year-old woman.

In late 2002 and early 2003, Zimmerman noticed some swelling and discomfort and was recommended to see a specialist. That doctor, through tests, found that her liver was failing and when the liver fails, the kidneys work that much harder.

Eventually, her kidneys failed and she received care at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. She was put on a transplant list.

By late 2005, she was so sick she couldn't work anymore and in early 2006, Zimmerman and her husband, Richard, temporarily moved into the Gift of Life Transplant House near the clinic, which she visited five times per week.

"It's tough to get up every day, go to the clinic, do all the procedures, come home and still feel just as rotten when you got up in the morning," she said.

Finally, after staying in Minnesota for almost six months with her health ever declining and her name moving further and further up the list, a match was made.

"We got a call and they said they thought they had a match," Zimmerman said. "The date was six-six-six, not exactly a date that a Christian would want a miracle to happen, but off we went."

If she would not have received her transplant, doctors estimated she would have lived two more months.

After six months in Rochester, she pulled into her driveway in Bismarck for the first time on July 4, 2006.

"My new Independence Day, I kept telling everybody," Zimmerman said.

She still has to take anti-rejection meds and have check-ups, but in the six-and-a-half years since her transplant, Zimmerman has gotten to see her son, Josh, graduate from college and has even traveled to New York City to visit him.

She doesn't have any grandchildren yet, but serves as a surrogate grandma to her nieces' babies.

Changing lives

Little Kevin, in his death, will be giving that same chance to five other people.

"Their whole families' lives are just going to be changed," Big Kevin said. "Because now, all of a sudden, their dad or grandpa or whoever's getting them will be coming home."

Little Kevin was athletic, getting his junior black belt in karate at age 11, playing all types of sports up until eighth grade and then focusing on baseball through his days at Dickinson High School, Big Kevin said.

"He was so healthy and so strong, he worked out every day, played basketball every day, he was so healthy that his organs could really help somebody else," Big Kevin said.

He was a good student throughout school and attended Dickinson State University for a bit and planned to become a history teacher and a coach, Big Kevin said.

Little Kevin left to work in the oil field at Nabors Industries with his dad and other relatives with plans to go back to school eventually, at least initially, sister Courtney said.

"When you make that kind of money, it's tough to go back," Big Kevin said, adding that if drilling were to slow down, Little Kevin would have most likely gone back to school.

Little Kevin was a good big brother to his two younger brothers, five younger sisters and baby half-sister, Penney said.

Little Kevin would often go work out with his brothers, Preston and Tanner, at the West River Community Center, where they knew him as K-Money, Big Kevin said. Little Kevin coached Tanner's basketball, football and flag football teams.

He was on his way home from CPR class near Watford City on Jan. 24 and was three miles north of Dickinson on Highway 22 when his pickup rear-ended a Peterbilt, according to a North Dakota Highway Patrol press release sent out the day of the crash.

Little Kevin was not wearing his seat belt, which was odd, Big Kevin said, because he always wore his seat belt.

"There is no doubt in my mind that if he was wearing his seat belt, he would be here with us today," Penney said.

Little Kevin was first taken to St. Joseph's Hospital and Health Center and then to St. Alexius, where he was pronounced dead Jan. 25.

Over the last week friends and family have been showing their support, Big Kevin said.

"At first it was a little overwhelming, but then, after a while it was really refreshing when people stopped by to talk," he said.

The exact cause of the crash is unknown as it is still under investigation, NDHP Sgt. Dan Haugen said. The results of a toxicology report will take weeks to complete.

Services are today at St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church in Dickinson at 10 a.m. with visitation at the church an hour before. He will be buried in the Dickinson Cemetery this spring.

With Little Kevin will be mementos like a baseball glove signed by family, his baby shoes that he always had in his car and an Oregon Ducks jersey.

Kevin Lee Theurer II is survived by his parents, Kevin Lee Theurer I and Cynthia Ell, his five sisters, Courtney, Brittney, Jersey, Kezley and Jocelyn, his two brothers, Preston and Tanner, and his half-sister, Emercyn Ell, as well as several other family members and close friends.

Katherine Grandstrand
I graduated from Bemidji State University in 2007 with a bachelor's degree in mass communcations, from Columbia College Chicago in 2009 with a master's degree in journalism.  
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