Young woman’s donated organs save others

Published 11:34 am Tuesday, November 22, 2022

By Angela Cutrer
Elizabethton Star
Isabelle Shayne Ray was just 18, but oh, what joy she brought to the lives of others:
To her mother, who had endured illness and loss.
To her grandparents, who lovingly helped raise her.
To her brother, who was her best friend.
To her friends and coworkers, who called her kind.
And to strangers, who now just might have a longer life than first thought. That’s because Isabelle’s family, who tragically lost her to a severe asthma attack last week, donated Isabelle’s organs to those who desperately needed them.
Recipients’ second chance
One is only nine months old. That baby received Isabelle’s heart.
Another is just two months old. That child now has Isabelle’s pancreas.
A wee one only a year old received Isabelle’s liver.
A kidney went to a 15-year-old.
And there are others we don’t even know about yet. And of course, we don’t know the outcome of each surgery and the future, but there is hopeful optimism within Isabelle’s family.
In a Facebook post, Josh said, “this was an extremely hard decision for me and my family as we have never done this before. We chose to donate my sister’s organs to save other lives. I stopped and ask[ed] myself if she could save strangers’ lives, would she do it, and without a second of hesitation we knew the answer. She was the most beautiful human and … I know she would truly give someone her last breath if she could. My sister is and always will be a hero! She never failed to make me proud!”
One thing that’s for sure is that Isabelle packed a lot of life into her short time on earth, and she did it with kindness, thoughtfulness and love. Her family, therefore, thought what better way to memorialize Isabelle’s life than giving the opportunity to live to those who were dying?
“That’s just how she was,” said her brother, Josh. “She was outdoorsy and loved horses. She loved her friends. She was happy and she was kind. When they mentioned at the hospital about her becoming a donor, I was gung-ho. It’s just such a beautiful thing, and I know Isabelle would have wanted us to do this.”
The hospital staff was “very, very respectful,” Josh added. “They gave us more than enough time to be with her and to think about it. And once we thought about it, we realized how much good it could do for others. We knew Isabelle would want that.”
Elizabethton family
Isabelle’s family is from Elizabethton. They are close knit and loving.
After their father died, Josh, 8, and Isabelle, 4, moved with their mother, Lisa Sue Ray Cox, into the home of the kids’ grandparents, Roger and Margaret Whitehead. “My grandpa is the best guy,” Josh said. “He and my grandma have been good to us.”
On Nov. 11, Isabelle posted to her Facebook page a photo of her grandfather, writing about her appreciation of him. “Happy veterans day to this man,” she wrote. “You have been a father figure to me since my dad died. Thank you for everything you have done for me. I love you, grandpa. Hope you have a great blessed day.”
Her obituary stated that Isabelle “enjoyed riding horses, being outdoors … [s]he loved her family and friends more than anything; especially her big brother, who was her hero, along with her other siblings.” Isabelle enjoyed the times she spent within her “trio”— best friends Raven and Sierra Richardson.
Isabelle and Josh’s friends and supporters conducted a memorial walk this past weekend at Johnson City Medical Center. They lined the halls to the operating room elevator to honor both Isabelle and the family that decided to extend her life through others.
Once the news of the organ donations spread through social media, the comments came fast. On Facebook:
“A wonderful loving act of love. God Bless and comfort this family always. Prayers and more.
“A very honorable decision from the family. A piece of Isabelle will always live on in the lives she impacted with her organs and her life with family and friends.
“God Bless the family and the families receiving the organs. God Bless the family during this difficult time.”
“So many blessings are coming from this tragedy! Beautiful Isabelle will live on in these children and in the hearts of all who knew her.
“Prayers for her family and friends. May she rest in peace. A beautiful young lady taken too soon. Thank you to her family for choosing organ donation. She will truly live on through someone else.”
What happened
On Nov. 11, Josh got a call from his sister. She was in distress and he quickly dressed to head out the door.
“She had really bad asthma,” Josh explained. “She had to undergo six to seven breathing treatments a week.”
Recently, the attacks escalated. “The attacks kept getting worse,” he said, “and more serious.”
Josh arrived to find Isabelle on the couch, struggling to breathe. He didn’t think twice: He did as he had done a bunch of times before and grabbed her up and carried her to the car.
But on the way, she became worse and Josh got scared. Really scared.
He pulled into the Elizabethton fire station, screaming at the top of his lungs, adrenaline fueling his steps.
Luckily, the professionals on site took over. “They were great,” Josh said. On Facebook, Josh told the community how Barry Carrier and Scotty (he didn’t catch his last name) of the fire department took over when he pulled into the fire station, saying by then Isabelle was unresponsive and not breathing. “Without a single hesitation, Barry and the fire department ran to my sister and started giving her CPR and did everything they could till she got a pulse again! They didn’t ask questions or hesitate in any way. They truly are the only reason my sister has a fighting chance right now. I just really want them to know how grateful my family truly is. … I will forever be grateful. … Thank you for being our heroes today.”
Isabelle, a senior at Hampton High School, was placed on a ventilator following her lungs collapsing after the asthma attack. She was given less than a 30 percent chance of recovery, and thanks to social media and verbal discussion, the community gathered to pray for Isabelle’s life.
But Isabelle had been without oxygen for too long. After being told that the Isabelle they knew had slipped away, the family made the crushing decision to let her body go as well, after the organs donation.
The community continued to support her family. “We had a memorial walk for Isabelle Friday and 50 to 60 people showed up,” Josh said. “The whole community has been wonderful and caring.” Josh said his friends, as well as Isabelle’s, have reached out with concern and offers of a shoulder to lean on.
Josh is the general manager of The Black Olive. The owners, Mo and Kinsey Holiday, also own Tijuana’s, where Isabelle worked. The Holidays did a fundraiser for Isabelle’s funeral costs. Well, in fact, they did more — they paid for the funeral up front. Josh said he thinks the many fundraisers are going to be enough to allow him to pay his employers back. “They are truly wonderful people,” he said, his voice cracking. “They’ve been so great and loving. They brought us food in the hospital and were so understanding.”
Hampton High School will be hosting either a silent or online benefit auction for the family of Isabelle. The auction will be sometime before Christmas break and businesses may donate items for a basket or make their own. Suzanne Barr and Tracie Powers at Hampton High School are the contacts for more information.
The school is also planning to take donations at their home basketball games, as well as accept them at the school.
Even before the family had been told that Isabelle’s brain was no longer working, Isabelle’s cousin Jacob Whitson sat with her daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. “He didn’t want her to be alone,” Josh said of his cousin, who was so close to them both. “On that third day, she was gone, but still hooked up to all those machines. He still sat with her and held her hand.”
Josh, who just recently married, has a lot on his shoulders. He has an extended family to take care of, as well as the burden and worry of finding enough money to pay back his employers for their kind care of his beloved sister.
But just take time to talk to Josh and you cannot only hear his positivity, but you can feel it as well through the words he chooses. It seems he listened when Isabelle told him things.
“Whenever I would come home all upset about something, Isabelle would calm me down and remind me ‘we don’t get mean back,’” Josh remembered. “She was like that — she used kindness.”
Isabelle is survived by her family members, Thomas Ray Cox III, Jordan Whitehead, Amy Shayna Ray, Crystal Whitehead, Kayla Whitehead and Mike Campbell; along with special friends, Savannah Pruitt, Austin Whitson, Jacob Whitson, Lexi Campbell, Brooke Campbell, Connie Scott, Katlynn Green, Tim Ward, Lydia Ward, Brian Bowers, Ashley Carver, Lori and Dave Long, Earl and Jan Gentry and others, including her classmates of Hampton High School and co-workers.
A celebration of life was held Monday at the Sunset Chapel of Hathaway-Percy Funeral Home, with Pastor Paul Seefelt officiating. The graveside service and committal was at 10 a.m. Tuesday at Whitehead Cemetery in Roan Mountain. Pallbearers were Coby Tolley, Jacob Whitson, Austin Whitson, Brian Bowers, Carl Little, Andy Stout, Clifford Whitehead and Calvin Conner. Crystal Whitehead was honorary pallbearer.

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