Rhiannon Westerholm was just 11 years old when she suffered a severe asthma attack on July 23. She died two days later, but the Australian girl who always “had a cheeky grin about her” lives on — her family donated her organs, which went on to save the lives of four people.
“When the doctors asked us about organ donation, her father and I just looked at each other and said, ‘she’s 11 years old — we shouldn’t have to be thinking about this,’” her mother, Roseanne Westerholm, told Adelaide newspaper The Advertiser.
“But the decision to donate her organs was easy — we would rather someone else live on where she couldn’t. Her heart went to a little 9-year-old girl. For seven months, this little girl had no heart in her body. She had an external heart so that makes us happy that her heart is going to another little girl."
Rhiannon's liver went to a 14-year-old boy with liver disease, while her kidneys were donated to a man and a woman.
People who read the story were quick to praise Rhiannon and her family. “It takes both courage and extreme empathy for others to make such a difficult decision at such a terrible time,” Penny Willow wrote on Facebook. “There is nothing greater a human can do than save a life and your darling girl has four saved lives as her legacy.”
Though Rhiannon’s mother, siblings and stepfather hoped she would be saved after she was taken to the hospital, she eventually became unresponsive. Despite the gifts Rhiannon gave, it wasn’t an easy decision.
“It was hard walking away because her heart was still pumping,” Roseanne said.
“Because she was an organ donor they couldn’t take the tubes out so I never got to hold her once more — that was hard.”