Imagine carrying a child knowing she will be born only to die almost immediately.
That’s exactly what Royce and Keri Young of Oklahoma chose to do for their daughter, Eva. The Youngs’ unborn daughter was diagnosed with anencephaly when Keri Young was 19 weeks pregnant. The unborn baby had no brain.
Rather than terminating the pregnancy, which would have been heartbreaking but, to some, understandable — Royce and Keri Young chose life. They saw the opportunity to give others a chance through organ donation. They embraced the opportunity to allow their Eva — a name that means “giver of life” — to grow to term.
Their story gained national attention back in February. Royce Young, a writer for ESPN, posted the family’s story on Facebook. He shared that just seconds after finding out their daughter was terminal, his wife asked, “If I carry her full term, can we donate her organs?”
These aren’t people who sought fame or accolades. No parent would ever want to walk the road that this couple endured. But they are an example of people who faced the worst of the worst — and managed to find purpose.
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And even though they courageously forged ahead, working with the hospital and the organization LifeShare to write protocol on how to donate the organs of their daughter, their plans did not go the way they intended. When Keri Royce was 37 weeks pregnant, Eva’s little heart stopped beating. The child was ultimately stillborn — her liver, kidneys, lungs, and heart could not be used.
Her life will impact another person in immeasurable ways.
Royce Young wrote about the experience at length, saying, “We had tried to do everything right, tried to think of others, tried to take every possible step to make this work, and it didn’t. No organ donation. Not even for the failsafe, research. We felt cheated.”
Perhaps the greatest disappointment was that the parents could not hold their baby while she was alive. If only for five seconds, they would have been able to treasure those moments. “I clung to [the idea of] knowing her humanity would be validated to me when I saw her as a living, breathing human being,” the young father wrote. “I would hold my daughter and be her daddy. I wanted to watch her die, because that would mean that I got to watch her live.”
But God still provided a path of hope even in the midst of hopelessness. Within minutes of Eva’s birth, the Youngs received a call that there was a match for Eva’s eyes. The child’s eyes would be donated — Eva Grace Young would give someone else the gift of sight.
As Royce Young wrote of that moment, “The timing of it all is just something I can’t explain. It wasn’t what we planned or hoped for, but it was everything we needed in that moment.”
It’s painful but inspiring to read. Ordinary people chose to do the extraordinary. Young doesn’t mention his faith, doesn’t share details of his family’s beliefs. But anyone can read his story and see the hand of God at work in the details of Eva’s life. The child didn’t have the opportunity to live beyond her mother’s womb — but her life had meaning. Her life will impact another person in immeasurable ways. All because the Youngs chose life.
There is no way to explain tragedies such as anencephaly. There’s no comfort for the Youngs that can explain the questions of: Why them? Why their daughter? Nothing except for the reassurance that Eva rests forever in the arms of God. The idea that in her brief existence, the child received the accolades of, “Well done, Eva,” when she entered heaven.
Her life was not an accident, a mistake, or without meaning.