Father inspired young man's gift of life
Daniel Ecklund, 19, died after a skateboarding accident in August. Several people received his donated organs.
Dan Bates / The Herald
At Thursday's American Red Cross Real Heroes Breakfast, Jeff Ecklund (left) and Neil Woodruff talk after Woodruff received an award for keeping Ecklund's son, Daniel, alive following an Aug. 30 accident. The 19-year-old later died.
He knew because Daniel Ecklund's state-issued ID card was marked with an organ-donor designation. He also knew why his 19-year-old son had made such a selfless choice.
In his own family, the young man had seen the critical need for donor organs. He also saw the positive results of a lifesaving gift.
"He had checked 'organ donor' on his card because in May of 2010 I had a double lung transplant," said Jeff Ecklund, 55, who lives in Brier. "It didn't take any convincing to get him to check that box."
People attending Thursday's 2013 Real Heroes Breakfast, a fundraiser for the Snohomish County Chapter of the American Red Cross, heard the sorrowful story of Daniel Ecklund. They didn't learn about his father.
On Aug. 30, Daniel Ecklund was severely injured. Riding a longboard, the teen collided with a utility trailer being towed by a truck. At the heroes breakfast, Neil Woodruff was honored for his actions that day. The skateboard accident happened near his Mountlake Terrace home.
Woodruff ran to help, and administered CPR until paramedics arrived. His aid helped keep Daniel alive long enough for his mother to come from out of state to see him, and for his organs to be donated. He died Sept. 7 at Seattle's Harborview Medical Center.
Jeff Ecklund's precious son was a 2012 graduate of Mountlake Terrace High School.
"Daniel was healthy, happy, smart and beloved," Ecklund said.
The teen had a job at an Ace Hardware store in Mountlake Terrace, where his 22-year-old brother, Alex, had also worked. "He enjoyed helping people," Jeff Ecklund said.
Daniel loved playing guitar -- he had six of them. For his senior project, he built his own electric guitar, putting together the wooden body and neck, and sanding, painting and installing the electronics. He played the instrument as part of the project.
"Mostly he would play at home with friends," said Jeff Ecklund, who had hoped Daniel would teach him to play bass guitar "so we could play together."
After his son's death, Ecklund learned details about three people helped by Daniel's donated organs. The teen's right kidney was transplanted into a father of seven. A young man who served in the Marine Corps with three children received his left kidney. And a man in his 60s received his liver, and with it a better life.
Jeff Ecklund doesn't know their names. He does understand what they went through.
"I'd had lung disease for quite some time. I had been on a waiting list for almost a year," said Ecklund, who suffered from a disorder called alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency.
The genetic condition "stops the immune system from attacking bad things in your lungs. It was eating up my lungs," Ecklund said.
"Daniel had been aware of my condition, and the need for donation. I was pretty debilitated and had to have oxygen everywhere I went," he said.
After the year's wait, Ecklund got the call and had lung transplant surgery at the University of Washington Medical Center. "In 10 or 11 days, I was home. It was pretty amazing," he said.
Because the disease didn't affect the rest of his body, his recovery was dramatic -- no more oxygen, and few limitations. He does need lifelong anti-rejection medication.
Just as Ecklund learned about the people who received Daniel's organs, he knows a bit about the donor of his lungs. "He was 26 years old," Ecklund said. The situation was not unlike Daniel's accident. "I understand completely what his parents had to deal with," he said.
LifeCenter Northwest is a federally designated nonprofit organ procurement and tissue recovery organization, one of 58 nationwide. It's the only one serving patients in Washington. The Bellevue-based agency also facilitates organ donation for people in Alaska, Montana and northern Idaho.
"Last year, LifeCenter Northwest saved the lives of 525 people in the region," said Megan Clark, the organization's vice president of external affairs. Still, the need for organs is much greater than supply. More than 2,000 people are now waiting for an organ, Clark said.
"In the United States, 18 people die every day waiting for organs. We really rely on the generosity shown by that young man who was an organ donor," she said.
While donors and recipients are anonymous, LifeCenter Northwest helps people learn basic information. Families of deceased donors get an "outcome letter," and are told how they can write to recipients.
"Sometimes we facilitate a meeting," Clark said. Jeff Ecklund wrote a thank-you letter, sent anonymously, to the family of the man who donated his lungs.
LifeCenter Northwest provides an after-care program for donor families. "It's part of their healing process," Clark said. "We follow these families to help them honor their loved ones."
Jeff Ecklund is compiling pictures of Daniel for a remembrance website. He is glad others gained health through his loss. "It does raise awareness of organ donation. For me it made all the difference," he said.
When Daniel was injured, he wasn't wearing a helmet. "I want to run out and tell somebody going down the street on a skateboard without a helmet, 'You should have a helmet!'" Ecklund said. "Unfortunately, things happen. He enjoyed life."
Physically, Ecklund said, "I'm doing great." For that, he is thankful for another young man's gift. Now, he suffers another kind of pain. Without his younger son, he is deep in grief.
"It is hard," Ecklund said. "As far as coping, we don't try to forget. He was part of our lives."
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.
To register as an organ donor in Washington, ask for an organ donor designation on your driver's license when you renew with state Department of Licensing. Or register with LifeCenter Northwest, a nonprofit organization that facilitates organ and tissue recovery in the region.
Register at www.donatelifetoday.com/register_online/sign_up.php
More info: 877-275-5269
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