CABOT No parents want to talk to their teenagers about being an organ donor. Talking about death and what happens while a body is still technically alive, but the person is gone, is not a pleasant conversation, especially when one is talking to a vivacious teen who is supposed to live for a long time.
In fact, Rodney and Kristy Cotillier did not want to have the conversation with their 16-year-old son, Evan, when he brought it up. Evan had watched the movie Seven Pounds with Will Smith, in which organ donation is a major theme, and wanted to make sure he could help people, even if something tragic happened to him.
“We never went to him [about organ donation],” Kristy said. “He had watched the movie and went to his dad and asked a million questions. [Rodney] brushed him off — that’s not something you want to talk about with your teenager — so Evan came to the kitchen and asked me.”
Kristy said she tried to brush him off, just as his dad had done, but Evan was persistent. Evan was concerned that because his epilepsy prevented him from getting a driver’s license, there would be no place to indicate he wanted his organs donated.
“I said, ‘Evan, I would have to tell them,’” Kristy said. “And he said, ‘Will you tell them?’ He was persistent.”
Kristy agreed that in case something terrible happened to Evan, she would make sure medical professionals knew he wanted his organs donated. The two-pinky promise — a special gesture they had had for years — made it official.
Little did Kristy know that promise would have to be upheld exactly one month later, when family members found Evan unresponsive in their home after an epileptic attack.
“We always were afraid. You were scared to wake him up in the mornings,” Kristy said of Evan’s epilepsy. “To have gone through everything, he was still a giver. He wasn’t selfish.”
Four days after he was found unresponsive — Oct. 3, 2013 — Evan was taken off life support and died. His heart, however, lives on because of organ donation.
“What we want is, we want his giving heart to keep giving. And we don’t just mean his organs. We want to give from his soul,” Kristy said. “Evan had this amazing, giving soul. His heart was so giving. He was such a giving person. So many people came to us with stories after he passed.”
Kristy said one of Evan’s multiple medications for his epilepsy caused aggression, so he attended classes in Cabot’s Alternative Learning Environment program.
“It was there that the stories came out about Evan,” Kristy said. “We had no clue the impact our son was making.”
One of Evan’s fellow students contacted Kristy after Evan’s death.
“She wrote a poem to Evan. She found me on Facebook and told me, ‘Evan saved my life,’” Kristy said, adding that the girl told her Evan helped her out of depression. “God put him there in that school.”
Evan’s heart, kidneys, liver, tissue and eyes were donated. Rodney and Kristy have met his heart recipient, and Kristy said it is almost as if Evan picked her out himself.
“She was a cheerleader,” Kristy said. “He would have liked that. Even their personalities are similar.”
His heart beats on in this woman’s chest, and because of his donation, she has been able to study art in Europe and live a productive life.
Evan will be one of 60 organ donors honored in this year’s Donate Life float at the Rose Parade on Monday. Rodney and Kristy will be in attendance, and Kristy said she hopes Evan’s story inspires others to consider organ
“Prior to this, we had no idea what was behind the scenes of organ donation,” she said. “Because of our conversation with Evan, the decision was an easy one. It wasn’t hard to choose.
“Parents need to have the conversation. It’s not an easy conversation, and it’s not one you want to have, but it’s important.”
Kristy said the people at Arkansas Children’s Hospital were a source of comfort during the time of Evan’s death. Arkansas Regional Organ Recovery Agency — or ARORA — has partnered with the Cotilliers to tell Evan’s story and encourage others to sign up as organ donors.
“There is hope that organ donation has given us,” Kristy said. “It doesn’t take the pain away, but it helps take the sting out and gives joy to your life.”
To find out more information about organ donation, visit www.arora.org.