While Justin left behind the memories of an active young man that brought smiles to his classmates and family, it was his legacy of being an organ donor that left the biggest impact.
Austin's sudden, tragic death was a shock to those who knew him. But through his donations, he was able to give others a second chance at life.
Austin Prather was a person who made the world better just by being here. He loved his family deeply, especially his three children, who were his whole universe. He was the glue that held his family together, always helping to keep the peace and help everyone to see the positive side of things. His sister Chantal says, “You couldn’t help but feel lighter about the world when you were around him. He had a wicked sense of humor, a contagious laugh, and a smile that lit up a room.”
Austin’s passion was being an educator. A special education teacher, he had a gift for building community. He encouraged his students to be their best selves and was their greatest cheerleader, delightedly watching each of his students cross the graduation stage. He also championed an anti-bullying campaign at Neil Armstrong Middle School.
In early March 2018, Austin suffered a fall that resulted in a subdural hematoma (bleeding in the brain). Friends called 911, but when Austin reached the hospital, he was no longer breathing on his own. He never regained consciousness, and on March 9, he was pronounced brain dead and began the process of organ, eye, and tissue donation. He was able to donate his heart, lungs, kidneys, corneas, and tissues.
Austin had always been a vibrant, active person. He was a huge sports fan – especially of the Oregon Ducks and Chicago Cubs. He was an athlete, playing football and basketball in high school and college, and golf as an adult. That made it especially challenging for his family as the end drew near. As Pacific Northwest Transplant Bank staff talked to them about the possibility of donation, they faced a difficult decision. Chantal describes it:
It was hard to see Austin hooked up to so many machines, seeming to be alive and breathing, just sleeping. It seemed as if he could wake up any minute. After several hard conversations and learning about the gifts that Austin could give, we agreed that this is what he would want.
Austin’s family has not yet heard from nor contacted any of his recipients. They are in the process and are hopeful to make those connections one day soon. In the meantime, they honor his memory through volunteering for Donate Life Northwest and helping to promote awareness about the importance of registering to be a donor and the gift of donation.
Chantal encourages people to make sure they are on the donor registry and that their families know what their wishes are. She tells their story:
At the time we decided to donate, we had no idea how Austin felt about organ, eye, and tissue donation. His Oregon driver’s license did not give an indication, and he did not have a medical directive. We knew his character and felt comfortable that he would love the idea of paying it forward and giving someone else the chance at life – a chance to make a difference in the world, to change the world for the good. On the third anniversary of the day Austin became a donor, I learned from a mutual friend that she had shared a conversation with Austin about organ donation and that he was very adamant that he was an organ donor. While we don’t know why it was not on his driver’s license, we now know without a doubt that we honored Austin’s last wish… and that means everything.