Somewhere out there the heart of Logan Floyd Lowe — lovingly called Logy Bear by friends and family — beats on. Logan’s parents donated his heart valves after he tragically passed away on Feb. 27 at just 19 months old. Despite the anguish of losing their young son, it was a decision Stephanie and Jeff Lowe of Ventura made without hesitation. “We’re trying to get as much good out of this as possible,” Jeff says. “If we could save another child’s life, we’d do it in an instant.”
The Lowes, Jeff, Aubrey, Stephanie, Logan “Logy Bear” Floyd.
The Lowes are among the thousands of families in the U.S. who choose to let the tissue or organs of deceased loved ones give a new lease on life to someone in need of a heart, liver, kidney or other transplantable body part. It’s not always an easy choice to make. Tissue and organs need to be recovered quickly to maintain their integrity, which means the decision to donate occurs at or near the time of death, when families are immersed in pain and grief.
“Often the conversation with the family takes place within six to 10 hours of their loved one passing,” says Tom Mone, CEO of OneLegacy, the nonprofit organization that handles organ and tissue procurement in the greater Los Angeles area, including Ventura County. “It’s one of the most challenging jobs our team does.”
All organ procurement organizations have to be designated by Medicare, and each is given a territory for coverage. In 2014, throughout the seven counties that make up OneLegacy’s service area, there were 418 organ donors, from whom 1,274 hearts, lungs, kidneys, livers and even pancreases and small intestines were able to be transplanted. (Around 2,000 people donated tissue — including bones, corneas, heart valves and skin — last year, too, and Mone estimates that 100,000 recipients benefitted.) Although the average organ donor can donate three, and even up to eight, organs, the need far outstrips the availability: According to the United Network for Organ Sharing, over 120,000 people are on the transplant waiting list. In California, the situation is even more daunting.
“Californians can wait as much as five times longer for a transplant because of our demographics,” Mone explains. “Overall, we have a young and healthy population, so our donor potential is one of the lowest in the nation. Yet, ironically, liver and kidney failure rates are among the highest.” In light of this, the Lowes’ contribution is all the more important.
Jeff and Stephanie endured one of the most terrifying experiences a parent can face. On Feb. 16, Logan fell into a canal that leads into the settling ponds along the Santa Clara River and nearly drowned. After Jeff pulled him out, Stephanie immediately administered CPR, and kept at it until the first responders arrived.
“I’d never done it on an actual person ever in my life,” Stephanie recalls. But her focus and determination during what for many would have been a moment of panic saved her son’s life at the time. Logan first went to St. John’s Regional Medical Center in Oxnard and later Northridge Hospital Medical Center.
The early days were hopeful. In the event of a concussion or other trauma, the brain can sometimes repair itself over time, and doctors were waiting to assess the situation after the brain swelling decreased. At one point, Logan had even been revived briefly.
“We had every hope in the world he was going to get through it,” Stephanie said. “Then a few days later, it stopped.” The lack of oxygen (it was estimated Logan had been in the water for three to five minutes) had resulted in extensive brain damage, and an MRI revealed that 90 percent of Logan’s brain function was gone. “Seeing the brain damage … that was the night I lost my son,” Stephanie says. All life support devices were removed, and Logan was surrounded by his parents and other family during the hours it took for him to pass.
For the Lowes, those days right before and after Logan’s death are a bit of a haze. Lots of medical professionals, lots of questions and answers, so many preparations to make, their 4-year-old daughter, Aubrey, to care for. But one thing was clear: They wanted to donate Logan’s heart valves, and possibly save another family from experiencing the kind of loss they had suffered.
“It’s almost like a continuing of Logan’s life,” Stephanie says through tears. Heart valves need to be transplanted within 30 days of procurement, so the Lowes know Logan’s have gone to some other child, although they don’t know who or where. They hope to connect with the recipient family one day. (Organizations like OneLegacy often act as mediators between donors and recipients, but both parties need to be open to it to comply with confidentiality laws.)
The aftermath of this experience has had ample amounts of bitter and sweet. For Jeff, Stephanie and Aubrey, every little thing is a reminder of Logan. When they look at the DVDs he no longer scatters on the floor, when they glance in the backyard he no longer plays in, when they see the canal where the tragedy took place. “He’s never not on our minds,” Stephanie admits.
But the Lowe family has been on the mind of countless people as well, far and wide. Friends and family showed up to help out in any way they could: making dinners, arranging for maid service, offering a shoulder to cry on. One friend started a GoFundMe campaign to help out with expenses. Jeff’s employer, United Water Conservation District, built a park near Lake Piru that will be named Logy Bear Park in honor of Logan. Stephanie and Jeff have grown close with the EMT and firefighter who first arrived at the scene of the accident and maintain friendships with many of the nurses they got to know at St. John’s and Northridge.
“I can’t explain how thankful I am for them,” says Stephanie. “They did everything in their power and treated Logan like their own. That made it that much easier for us.” The experience restored Jeff’s faith in humanity. “People we never even knew, complete strangers, even from different countries — they’ve reached out,” he says. “This helped me realize there are still a lot of good people out there.”
The experience also gave Stephanie a mission. “I want to become certified as a CPR trainer,” she says, adding that she hopes one day to offer classes free of charge, to parents in particular. “CPR didn’t save Logan’s life, but it gave us another 11 days with him. … CPR can save lives, and I now feel like it is necessary when you have children. Everyone should learn CPR.”
Tragedies such as this often break marriages apart, but not Stephanie and Jeff. “It’s made us stronger,” Jeff attests. “We have to stay strong for each other, our daughter, our friends and family.” They have each other and their daughter, a wide network of family and friends to rely on, and a variety of professional support services (some provided by OneLegacy) to turn to as needed. “It takes a village” isn’t just for raising children, after all. “So many people have helped us,” says Stephanie. “Now I just want to help people more.”
Even as they work through their grief, they can still imagine a happy future, which almost certainly includes more children. Recently welcomed into the Lowe family is an adorable bulldog puppy, who has brought levity and comfort in this trying time.
“Our world was turned upside down, but we’re trying to get it back upright, one step at a time,” Stephanie says. Knowing that a part of Logan has gone to help another life has been a big step in the healing process. “I think it’s Logan giving us strength,” she adds poignantly.
As the head of OneLegacy for more than 15 years, Mone is familiar with the phenomenon. “I think it’s important that people recognize that organ donation is not about death — it’s about how you choose to go on after losing someone by helping fulfill their lives by saving other lives.”
CPR SAVES LIVES:
Learning CPR and first aid is easy — affordable classes are offered throughout the county, and usually last only a few hours. Here are some resources to find a class near you:
American Red Cross — Ventura Co. Chapter
American Heart Association
Ventura Family YMCA
Ventura CPR Classes