Everett woman’s gift of life to be honored by governor

Sharon Ballenger was a registered nurse, loving mom, animal lover and avid hockey player. But above all, her family says, she gave selflessly to others.

Ballenger was 55 when she died in Everett on March 30, 2011 from cardiac arrest.

For the next three days, she was kept on life support to carry out her wishes of being an organ donor.

“She saved three lives … donating both kidneys and a liver, which is an enormous gift for those three individuals,” said Valerie Maury, director of family services for LifeCenter Northwest, the regional organ donation coordinating agency.

This morning, Ballenger’s family is scheduled to receive a Gift of Life award from Gov. Jay Inslee, one of six families across the state being recognized for saving the lives of others through organ donation.

The decision to allow the organ donations “was not a difficult decision for me,” said Scott Ballenger, her partner of 22 years. “That’s what Sharon would have done and that’s what Sharon wanted.”

She worked in emergency rooms and with the terminally ill, he said. “I think she had no qualms spiritually or emotionally about sharing body parts. She saw it as a way to save people.”

Many of those on the organ donation list are waiting for kidney transplants, she said. But patients also need donated hearts, heart valves, livers, lungs, pancreases, kidneys and intestines as well as bones, tendons, ligaments, skin, veins and corneas.

Washington is among the national leaders in the number of people signing up to be organ donors, in part because of the ease of registration, Maury said. It’s a step they can take online or when getting or renewing a driver’s license.

Sharon Ballenger worked as a registered nurse and licensed massage practitioner. She helped to found the Everett Women’s Hockey program.

Scott Ballenger, 55, is a wheelchair-dependent quadriplegic. He broke his neck, he said, when he dived into shallow water at age 15.

“My paralysis was never seemingly an issue for her,” he said. “I have not met a lot of people that don’t notice disability first. She was one of those people who had the ability to look at your heart and judge from there.”

Sharon Ballenger’s daughter, Tora Hennessey, of Seattle, said she remembers her mom as “pushing me to step out of my bubble and see the world, to try new things.”

Part of that inspiration lead Hennessey, 32, to learn Japanese.

In the months since the organ donations, the family has been in contact with one the recipients.

“It’s interesting and pretty amazing, three people are walking around who have a second chance at life,” Hennessey said.

Scott Ballenger said that hearing from one the recipients helped him realize “that Sharon’s mission had been fulfilled in terms of giving life.

“It’s fitting that she would end her days with that that type of care for other people,” he said. “That’s Sharon in a nutshell.”

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or salyer@heraldnet.com

Become a donor

More information on organ donation is available at the website of LifeCenter Northwest, www.lcnw.org.

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