On Good Friday, April 6, 2007, Ryan Joseph Landers was severely injured in a head-on car accident on a two-lane road near Springfield, Ill. The 19-year-old automotive technology student was on his way to work, riding in his pride and joy — a 2000 Honda Civic SI.
First responders struggled to free Ryan from the wreckage for 45 minutes. One fireman climbed inside the mangled car to administer oxygen and calm Ryan. But he never regained consciousness.
Ryan was declared brain-dead on April 7. He had expressed his interest in being an organ and tissue donor to his family, and they complied with his wishes. They found Gift of Hope supportive and compassionate during an agonizing time.
On Easter Sunday 2007, Ryan offered the gift of life as an organ and tissue donor. He was able to donate four organs, and his tissue gifts have benefitted 61 people in 12 states and the Republic of South Korea. Recipients have ranged from a four-month-old boy to an 87-year-old man.
The 39-year-old man from Poplar Grove, Ill., who received Ryan’s right kidney and pancreas had been losing a 26-year battle with diabetes. In a note of thanks, he wrote, “Not a day goes by that I don’t say a prayer for my donor family and the gifts that they shared. Through the doctor’s skilled hands a miracle was performed. After 26 years, I am free once more.”
To honor Ryan, his parents, Pat and Jay, established the Ryan J. Landers Memorial Scholarship in Automotive Technology at Lincoln Land Community College in Springfield. Since establishing the scholarship in spring 2009, six people have received academic awards. Pat and Jay have met most of the recipients, and Ryan’s story is always shared with them. And in their dedicated work as Advocates for Hope volunteers for Gift of Hope, they share Ryan’s story as often as they can to underscore the importance of being a registered donor and how that selfless decision can help others.
Ryan’s friends remembered him as having a constant smile and being able to brighten their days. He excelled in art and enjoyed working with kids. He loved skateboarding, guitars and working on cars.
With Ryan’s sister, Kelly, and his brother, Chris, Pat and Jay have volunteered at many public education and special events to promote organ and tissue donation. The couple also co-chairs the Springfield Life Goes On committee and speaks on behalf of Gift of Hope.
The Landers Family never expected to be on this journey. “We wish we’d never met you,” is what they often say to other donor families when they get together. But amid the long shadow cast by the tremendous loss of a loved one, Ryan’s light shines brightly created by the legacy he left as of organ and tissue donor.