On Dec. 13, 2006, in Naples, Fla., a brain aneurysm cut short the life of 35-year old Brandon Browning, devastating his close-knit Henry County family.
What the family did in the traumatic hours following his death was nothing short of heroic. Their unselfish decision to donate his organs gave hope to three other families whose loved ones were living on borrowed time.
On Sunday, Sept. 7 two of the three recipients will join Browning’s family and friends in a “Celebration of Life” to honor Brandon.
Missy Beckley, Browning’s sister, planned the event which will include a film, photos, stories and memories. “I want the organ recipients to know who Brandon was,” she said.
One of the recipients is Henry County’s Greg Hutcherson, who has battled kidney disease since 1993. Despite treatment, in Oct. 2006 his health had deteriorated and he was added to the kidney transplant list and dialysis treatments loomed.
Hutcherson had changed churches, going from Orville Baptist to Pleasureville Baptist, and met Browning’s aunt, Reba Harrod.
When Harrod learned of the intention to donate Browning’s organs, she immediately thought of Hutcherson. She telephoned the family and described his plight.
Browning’s wife Jodi and Beckley told the transplant team that they knew someone in Kentucky who needed a kidney.
The team coordinated with Hutcherson’s doctors and found the kidney was a good match.
Hutcherson was taken to Cincinnati where he received his new kidney on Dec. 16. Beckley said the kidney matched almost as if it was his own. “It was a nine out of 10 match, 10 being your own,” Hutcherson said in a August 2007 interview.
The other recipient attending the event is Larry Hardin of Brandon, Fla. He received Browning’s heart.
After suffering a major heart attack, Hardin, 39, lay in a coma for more than a month. He had multiple by-pass surgeries, but the left side of Hardin’s heart was too damaged to heal.
In an attempt to buy time, doctors implanted a Ventricular Assist Device, referred to as “a bridge to transplant.”
The VAD is a machine that helps the heart pump when it can’t function on its own.
“Basically I had to live on machines,” Hardin said. He lived on borrowed time with the VAD doing the lion’s share of his heart’s work for more than 90 days before getting the call that a donor heart had been located.
On Dec. 15, six days before his 40th birthday, Hardin received Browning’s heart.
His wife, Betty, remembered getting the news that a heart had been found. She said the doctor informed them that the organ came from a donor younger than 45.
“Driving to the hospital all we could think of was the donor’s family,” she said. “If Larry was getting a heart another family had gone through something bad.”
The heart was a perfect fit and Hardin has shown no signs of organ rejection. “He had angels all around him,” Betty said.
Soon the Hardins will drive the 848 miles from their home in Florida to Pleasureville to meet Browning’s family face-to-face and take part in a Celebration of Life honoring him.
“I think it’s the right thing to do,” Larry said. “Half of the people I know who’ve been through transplants never meet the (donor’s) people.”
Part of the reason for that is that the transplant program is professionally and ethically bound to keep donor information confidential.
A service called Life Link assisted Betty Hardin when she wanted to reach out to Browning’s family. She wrote a letter and the agency forwarded it to Beckley. Due to Life Link’s stringent communications policies, it was six months before Beckley’s reply reached the Hardins.
Eventually, the families were able to exchange phone numbers and have been in touch ever since, culminating in the upcoming event. Betty Hardin said they are very excited about participating. “It’s going to be overwhelming to meet them,” she said.
They plan to continue their personal “life link” in the future. Betty Hardin said she has invited Beckley and other Browning family members to Florida next year. Larry Hardin hopes to drive to Naples to see a plaque honoring Browning. Betty Hardin said her husband’s family also wants to meet and thank them personally.
Betty Hardin’s plan for the future is straight forward. “Our plan is to keep him healthy,” she said. “I want him around another 25 to 30 years.”
The community is invited to the Celebration of Life on Sunday, September 7, beginning at 2 p.m. at Pleasureville City Hall. Contact Missy Beckley at (502) 845-2529 or (502) 655-7042 for more information.
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