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Allison Miller with a photo of her son, Keegan Johnson, an organ donor

Allison Miller with a photo of her son, Keegan Johnson, an organ donor

The Gift of Life - National Donate Life Month

In February, a 17-year-old in the Midwest received the new liver he needed.

A middle-aged man in the Southeast got the heart transplant that gives him a chance of living a healthy life.

Two people received kidney transplants, and one of them also got a new pancreas.

These critically important organ transplants happened because a Spartanburg teenager decided to become an organ and tissue donor.

Keegan Johnson was a Dorman High School junior with a friendly personality and “a generous spirit,” said his mother, Allison Miller. When he got his driver’s license, he signed up as a donor.

 “I’m very proud of him,” Miller said. “He had the best heart – he would give you the shirt off his back.”

Keegan had been a healthy youngster, his mother said, so it was worrisome when he became sick earlier this year and didn’t bounce back. He kept feeling worse and worse, eventually vomiting and complaining of pain in his left leg.

When he showed difficulty communicating verbally, Miller, a cardiac care assistant with Spartanburg Regional, recognized “classic symptoms of a stroke.” She called 911 – and then called family members to let them know.  

In the Spartanburg Medical Center emergency room, doctors performed tests and discovered that Keegan’s brain was swelling as the result of an extremely unusual case of bacterial meningitis.

Miller praised the work of Keegan’s caregivers, but they were unable to save his life. His brain had been too greatly damaged by the swelling.

A representative with We Are Sharing Hope SC, the state’s federally designated organ and tissue procurement agency, met with Miller and her husband, Joey, after Keegan was declared brain dead. They signed papers allowing his organs to be donated to others in need.

Miller said the We Are Sharing Hope SC team showed great compassion and support for the family.

Shonna Bible, MSN/RN, is Spartanburg Medical Center’s clinical liaison for organ, tissue and eye donation. She works to raise awareness about the importance of becoming a donor.

April is National Donate Life Month, and Bible plans events each year, including a candlelight ceremony, to honor the families of donors as well as those who have benefited from transplants. The ongoing COVID-19 situation has sidelined public events, but Bible said she will be working with key partners in the state to promote the Excellence in Donation campaign, beginning in October and running through April 2021.

Donations to Spartanburg Regional Foundation’s Organ, Tissue and Eye Donation Fund support these and other awareness efforts.

Meanwhile, Bible said she’s grateful for Miller and other donor families willing to share their stories. “When a donor family tells their story, the legacy of the donor lives on through the telling,” she said. “People reading the story can see that this gift is essential to the healing of the family, finding good in a tragic situation, and celebrating the heroism of the donor.”

Miller felt gratified to learn about the recipients of Keegan’s organs. She said it is a source of comfort for her and the family, including Keegan’s younger brothers, Kayden and Kamdyn.

Miller hopes she may have the opportunity to one day meet or correspond with the recipients. “We want to celebrate with them,” she said. “Keegan would want that.”

To donate to Spartanburg Regional Foundation’s Organ, Tissue and Eye Donation Fund, visit Community Health – Spartanburg Regional Foundation.