Tim Packhem touched—and saved—a lot of lives. It’s an impressive thing to say about anyone, but the fact that Tim could affect so many, in so short a time, is what makes him truly special.
Those close to him affectionately knew him as “Tim-bo”—a friendly goofball who was quick with a joke or a hug. The kind of guy who walks up to you on your first day at a new school and invites you join him and his friends at the lunch table.
At 16 years old, when Tim died from severe brain trauma after falling off a skateboard, the number of people who appreciated his carefree attitude became heartbreakingly clear. Almost his entire school came out to honor his memory at the wake. The line, stretching long and silent, snaked slowly past his casket with hundreds of people wanting to tell him goodbye, thank you, or both. Many of those who came to offer their condolences were unfamiliar to the family, but one thing the family immediately recognized was the impact Tim had made on so many lives.
“I never hung out with him much, but I always thought Tim was one of the greatest guys in school.”
“He was the funniest kid in class. Probably the only reason I ever looked forward to going to algebra.”
“Tim was the best.”
Just one month earlier, Tim had been studying for his learner’s permit. His Registry of Motor Vehicle instruction booklet taught him about organ donation, and at the dinner table one evening Tim told his mother, “If anything ever happens to me, I want to be an organ donor. When I get my license, I want it to have that donor sticker on it, just like yours.”
At the time, his mother didn’t pay it much thought. Four weeks later, it was all she could think about.
By honoring Tim’s final wish, the family found a degree of peace. Through the New England Organ Bank, they learned more about the gifts that Tim left for others: His heart was now with a 15-year-old girl. His lungs went to a man with cystic fibrosis, who after 37 years could no longer fight the disease. Each of his kidneys had gone to separate people, and his liver had been split into two unequal but fully functioning lobes, allowing doctors to save both an infant and an adult with acute liver failure.
In his final act of kindness, Tim saved six people. That’s so Tim, his family thought.
A few months after the funeral, Tim’s family was invited to a national event honoring organ donors, their families and transplant recipients. Though they were deep in Pittsburgh Pirates’ territory, Tim’s dad proudly wore his Red Sox hat. With the Sox logo shining like a beacon, a man approached Tim’s father explaining that he too was from Boston and was attending the event because he had recently received a lung transplant. The conversation gradually shifted from the strengths and weaknesses of the Sox’s starting pitching to events that brought both men to Pittsburgh. The more they shared the clearer it became that this man had received Tim’s lungs, and somehow, some way, happened into the lives of Tim’s family.
In the coming months and years, the two families became friends, forming a very unique bond that can be difficult, even for them, to fully explain. (And almost impossible for anyone who has never been in that situation to truly understand.)
But, unconventional as their connection may seem, it’s become an important foundation in the lives of both families. So much so that when Tim’s sister was married, three years after Tim had gone, she asked the man who received his lungs to read at her ceremony. It was her way of including Tim, and Tim’s legacy, in her new life. She did it because though sad, she knew it would also bring joy to everyone, and making people smile, in any capacity, is so Tim.
To learn more about organ donation, including how you can register yourself or a family member, please visit Donate Life’s website.
If you’d like to read other stories celebrating life and the power of organ donation, please follow Boston Children’s Hospital Pediatric Transplant Center on Facebook.