Every day is gift. A gift that cannot be taken lightly. On July 27, 2008, Joe and Jan Kerr received the call every parent dreads – their son, Mike, died in accident. But from that darkest moment, the Kerr’s have used the accident to raise awareness for organ donation in Mike’s name.
"The worst day of our life, something good came from the tragedy," said Joe Kerr.
Mike, a Jackson Township native who was a semester away from receiving his degree in Landscape Design Management at Kent State Salem and planned on starting his own company Big Mike's Landscaping, was leaving work at Legends Sports Pub in Green when he was killed.
"He had an accident about a mile down the street," Joe Kerr said. "The front tire of his motorcycle hit the edge of the median strip on (State) Route 241 right before Interstate 77."
Though the accident took Mike’s life, he was an organ donor and his heart, liver and kidneys live on through other people. Every year since Mike died, his parents and friends have organized a motorcycle ride which benefits LifeBanc. This year's ride took place July 24.
"All proceeds from the bike ride are donated to LifeBanc," wrote Joe, who said Mike loved riding his 2005 Honda VT 1300 and enjoyed playing baseball. "Michael was an organ donor. We have a team named Walking with Big Mike during the Gift of Life Walk and Run at Blossom Music Center every year. This year, we raised $2,625."
Joe explained how the annual ride came about.
"The first year Donnie Boyer, Mikes’s best friend, organized everything and we had it shortly after Mike’s funeral," said Joe, who added that while his son could be intimidating at first sight, he was really a big teddy bear. "Everyone loved him right away. He had a great personality and loved to entertain everyone and make them laugh. We wanted to keep Mike’s memory alive and also stress the importance of organ donation. Jan and I are on LifeBanc’s Donor Family Council. We meet about four times a year and talk about ways to help other families cope with their loss.
The ride starts at Boettler Park in Green.
"We take Greensburg Road which turns into State Street through Alliance to Salem," Joe said. "Then we go right on Route 45 to Kent State Salem, which is 36 miles. We do a parade route and are escorted by the Summit, Stark and Columbiana county sheriff departments. On the way back, we ride into smaller groups and finish the ride to Legends Sports Pub for the dinner and raffle."
The initial year, the ride started with 60 or 70 riders. Since then, the ride had grown to more than 300 riders. There is no entry fee for the race. The proceeds come from the raffle following the ride.
Mike, who was 6-foot-8 and 275 pounds, was not married and did not have children. But he lives on through the lives of several people. Among the many organs Mike donated was his heart, liver and kidneys. Those recipients have met the Kerr’s and participate in the ride. Tommy Beadle, from Canton, received Mike’s kidney. Valerie Henning, from Medina, received Mikes liver and Bill Wagner, from Long Island, N.Y., received Mike’s heart.
Joe described what it was like to meet the recipients of his son’s organs.
"We really wanted to meet everyone," said Joe. "When my wife met the heart recipient, she could hear his (Mike’s) heart. He calls her every year on Mother’s Day."
Joe said there is waiting period for recipients and donor families to meet. He explained that the process starts by writing letters which go through LifeBanc, providing the recipient wants to meet the donor family. After a certain time, if you want to meet, you can.
"One of the recipients of Mike’s organ’s happen to be a friend of the family," said Joe. "The doctor said it was one of the best matches."
Joe concluded that with "Mike being an organ donor, my wife and I are in a 10 times better place than we would have been if Mike hadn’t been an organ donor. Getting to meet his organ recipients has also helped us deal with our loss."