When Sandy Sides’s 5-year-old daughter Savannah saw a commercial promoting organ donation, she insisted her mother register her as a donor. “I sat her down and asked if she knew what that meant,” Sides said. “I told her ‘honey, you aren’t going to need to worry about this for a very long time.’ And she said, ‘Mommy, you don’t understand. I won’t need them when I get to heaven.’”
Sides registered Savannah, and the rest of the family, as organ donors. Exactly one month later, she was fighting for her life from a car accident that also killed her 5-year-old daughter. Savannah saved five lives through organ and tissue donation.
One of the lives that Savannah saved was 2-year-old, Alexis Morgan, who was born with Biliary Atresia and listed with the United Network for Organ Sharing for a liver transplant when she was 6 months old. “When we were told that Alexis needed a liver transplant, this was our initial involvement with the organ donation process; however, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta did a great job educating us about the overall process,” said Vickie Morgan, Alexis’s mom. “The transplant was successful and Alexis has thrived without limitations. She has been actively involved in sports the majority of her life and softball is her passion. People are shocked after learning that Alexis had a liver transplant, because she is so active and lives a normal life.”
For Sides, the decision to follow Savannah’s wishes was a no-brainer. “Sometimes I think we need to step in other people’s shoes,” she said. “If we just did that for a moment, I don’t think it would take a minute or two to come to the realization, ‘oh yeah, that’s what I need to do.’ Savannah didn’t flinch, even when I was trying to talk her out of it.”
Two families, united by tragedy and bonded through the same cause.
“After Alexis was transplanted, we expressed to the transplant team that we wanted to contact the donor family,” Morgan said. “We wrote a letter to the Sides family and were elated when we received a letter back from them. Their family is an extension of our family. Alexis participated in Kayla Sides’s [Savannah’s older sister] wedding, Stephen and Sandy came to softball tournaments to cheer on Alexis, and most recently they attended her high school graduation and party. We are so blessed to have them in our lives.”
And the gift of organ donation is a ripple effect that keeps giving. “It’s the gift of being able to watch your children grow up, or watch your grandchildren be born,” Sides said. And although she acknowledges that getting to see Alexis graduate is a momentous milestone, it’s also bittersweet. “It’s hard to find the words because, as a mom, I didn’t get to see my child graduate. But at the same time you are grateful to watch her parents feel so excited by all of their daughter’s achievements. To see her grow into this beautiful young lady is an honor. And if we had not made the choice to donate, her parents might not have had this moment.”
Morgan said that the decision to register as an organ donor is simple and she encourages family and friends to say “yes”. “Do the right thing,” she said. “Give someone else an opportunity to live life.”
Sides agrees. “We feel blessed because even in the midst of our hardest and darkest days ever, so many people’s prayers were answered,” she said. “I could have 100 more kids and it wouldn’t replace the one I lost. But God knew that there were going to be five lives that Savannah needed to save.”
Savannah’s parents, Sandy and Stephen, are pictured with Alexis at her high school graduation party.