Boy’s death changes lives

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Boy’s death changes lives
By J.A. Buchholz | Feb. 12, 2010 {1139}
It was a Sunday afternoon like any other, but what the Carter family experienced that day changed their lives forever.

It began with worship at First United Methodist Church, Land O’ Lakes, and then some grocery shopping. As the family later settled in at home, they noticed several of their neighbors outside enjoying the September day.

Austin Carter. Photo courtesy of Natalie Carter. Photo #10-1403.

Natalie and Rhett Carter’s three children were soon among them, playing outside on the family’s three acres when the accident occurred.

Ten-year-old son Austin Carter was driving a go-cart someone had brought over to the house. He momentarily took his hands off the wheel when dirt flew into his eyes, and the vehicle ran into a pole.

When the other children ran into the house to tell the adults what had happened, Natalie says she knew instantly it was bad. Rhett went to the scene, and Natalie called for help.

Later at the hospital, Natalie said the doctors told them Austin’s condition was grave.

“I got very angry,” Natalie said. “I was crying hysterically, asking them if they had tried everything. I grabbed the doctor’s ankles, and I was telling him Austin was only 10 years old.”

The Rev. Peter Cottrell, senior pastor at the Land O’Lakes church, learned about the accident from a close friend of the family while at church after worship that morning. He was with the Carters when they first learned the seriousness of Austin’s injuries.

“I was in the private waiting room when the first doctor came in to speak to the family and tell (them) the extent of the injury,” Cottrell said. “In that moment … I was certain that the conversation would turn to organ donation before long. As their pastor, I thought it would be better if that conversation came from me, rather than a doctor they did not know.”

Cottrell said he asked Natalie and Rhett to consider the possibility of organ donation if that time came and suggested they could make the best decision as a family.

Austin’s injuries were indeed beyond recovery, and the next day Natalie and Rhett found themselves considering the notion of donating Austin’s organs to potentially save other people’s lives.

“I just thought, ‘What would Austin want?’ ” Natalie said. “I thought how he was always full of energy and how wonderful it would be to have him live on in others.”

Later that night, Austin’s doctors told the Carters they would need to begin making arrangements soon if Austin were to become a donor.

The Carters took their two other children away from the 80 family, friends, church members and co-workers who had gathered at the hospital and told them they wouldn’t opt for organ donation unless the family was united in that decision.

Natalie and Rhett Carter pose with their children, Austin (right), Colin and Brianna, in 2008 for their church directory photo. Photo courtesy of First United Methodist Church. Photo #10-1404.

The children agreed, and soon, eight of Austin’s organs became life-changing transplants for six people.

Spreading the word

That was a little more than a year ago. Today, both the Carter family and members of the church tell others about the value of organ donation.

Cottrell said he thinks Austin would have approved of his family’s decision.

“Austin was so young, with so much life ahead of him, and had such a giving spirit,” Cottrell said. “It has been a powerful way to let him give to others.”

Jennifer Krouse says the family has “turned this tragedy into something good.” Krouse is manager of public affairs at LifeLink Foundation, which helped facilitate the organ donation process. LifeLink is an independent, nonprofit organ and tissue recovery organization that works with patients in need of transplant therapy and their families.

Krouse said 3,700 of the 105,000 people in the United States waiting for life-saving transplants live in Florida.

Since Austin’s death, Krouse said Natalie has been a diligent volunteer, speaking about the importance of organ donation.

“We encourage people to talk about organ donation when they are healthy,” Krouse said. “It makes it so much easier to know how to proceed.”

Krouse said families can make the best decisions if they are aware of their loved ones’ wishes before they die. The Carters had expressed their wishes about end-of-life issues, but had never considered organ donation until it personally impacted their family. Soon after, the couple went online and became organ donors.

“Our life is a gift to God,” Cottrell said. “We are asked to give up our own lives for others. Organ donation is a powerful way to offer God’s love to another. It rings of resurrection and hints of eternal life.”

The church is no stranger to that kind of gift, Cottrell said, with two families in the congregation personally affected by organ donation. Two members have had kidney transplants, with one receiving a kidney from her husband. The church has helped both families through that process during the past two years, Cottrell said.

And late last year, the congregation celebrated Organ and Tissue Donor Sunday, a United Methodist special Sunday observed as part of the National Donor Sabbath. It’s traditionally observed the second Sunday in November, but churches can celebrate it any time. Churches throughout the country use the day to increase awareness about organ and tissue donation and the need for it.

Natalie stood before members during two services that day to recount her family’s story and thank them for their comfort and prayers.

“Our life is a gift to God. We are asked to give up our own lives for others. Organ donation is a powerful way to offer God’s love to another. It rings of resurrection and hints of eternal life.”

Rev. Peter Cottrell

She says the family’s faith has sustained them. “You know, I got mad at first,” she said. “I kept thinking how this was not fair. Now, my faith is stronger because of what I faced. I may not know why, but I know the Lord is guiding me. I have cried harder and prayed harder than I ever have.”

The family’s spiritual journey began in July 2008 when they were baptized, Natalie said, and it continues on in spirit with Austin.

“Austin had a strong faith,” she said. “The last Sunday of his life at church someone asked him where his Bible was, and he carried a little pocked Bible around with him. He touched his shirt pocket and said, ‘Right here in my heart, where it always is.’ ”

More information about Organ and Tissue Donor Sunday is available at Information about organ and tissue donation is available on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Donate Life Web site at

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011,, Orlando
*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a freelance writer based in Seffner, Fla.

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