Hamburg Teen's Legacy Is Of Others Saved

12:20 PM, Jul 20, 2012   |    comments
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Jillian Williams

HAMBURG, NY - Jillian Williams was a healthy teenage girl, a Frontier High School Freshman who in March of 2011 came down with an affliction many of us have suffered at one time or another, and recovered from.

It was a sinus infection.

But instead of draining normally, according to her mother, Jillian's sinuses drained back through her nasal cavity and into her brain.

"Everything that could have gone wrong, did," said Deanne Mills when recalling her daughter's brief illness, which claimed her life within days of the onset of symptoms.

The situation became dire when Deanne checked on Jillian who had been sleeping in her bedroom of the family's home, and discovered her daughter on the floor and unresponsive.

"I could look in her eyes, and I knew she was there, but she couldn't...she couldn't speak to me," Mills recalled.

Jillian was rushed to Buffalo Children's Hospital where it soon became apparent that she was fighting for her life.

While in the hospital, Jillian, at age 14, then suffered a massive stroke.

Doctors fought valiantly, according to her mother, to try and save her by conducting an emergency Craniotomy.

"They removed 75% of her skull and the infection was so bad that it had started to eat into the skull itself....half her brain had already been destroyed."

Doctors determined Jillian's chances of survival were slim at best, and if she were to live at all, it would probably be only through means of artificial life support.

Her mother didn't wait for those kindly folks to arrive to ask the delicate questions they need to... she approached the doctor herself.

"I think he was very surprised actually ...but I asked him about organ donation and that's how we got the ball rolling on that."

All Deanne Mills sought, was blessing of Jillian's two older sisters.

Shelby Williams, now 20, was the lone holdout.

"I guess at that moment I just wasn't ready to get on board," Williams told WGRZ-TV.

But after taking some time to process the situation, Shelby also agreed.

"I figured that if she couldn't ever be her normal self, jumping around...aggravating some people, then she might as well help other people so they can continue on."

And help them continue on, Jillian did.

Within days of her own death, Jillian's donated organs helped save four lives, according to her mother.

They included a Western New York man who received a needed kidney and pancreas, and a Western New York mother with two children who received Jillian's other kidney. As well, there was an upstate New York woman whose doctors feared was just days away from succumbing from liver disease, but who received a life saving transplant, and finally, a 20 year old South Carolina college student who was the recipient of a rare double lung transplant.

The last recipient is the only one which the family has heard from. But they'd like to hear from the others as well.

Jillian's sudden death, and her gifts of life, have turned her family into staunch advocates for organ donation, especially from people Shelby's age, many of whom are just getting their drivers license, or undergoing their first renewal.

"And it's weird because now when other people are like, 'oh, look at my picture', my eyes automatically drift to the opposite side of their license...and I'll ask if they have signified that they are an organ donor."

There was one of Jillian's organs which was rejected for donation.

It was her heart, which in the final days of her life had become damaged....over worked in its attempt to support the rest of her failing body.

Amid her grief, Mills found herself profoundly disappointed by that.

"When you think of a living being, you automatically think of the heart which sustains them. If I would have been able to feel or hear her heart beating in someone else, that would solidify for me that part of her was still alive."

That particular disappointed ebbed within days of Jillian's death when Deanne, alone in her room crying, heard what appeared to be her daughter's voice...whispering to her.

"She said, 'Geez, mom. I couldn't just give my heart away. I had to take it with me...because that's where you are."

There were more than life saving gifts to Jillian Williams' legacy.

Two people received the gift of sight through corneal transplants.

Her skin was taken for grafts for burn victims, or for babies born with organs outside of their bodies.

The later, her mom believes, Jillian will literally be they grow.

Click on the video player to watch our story about Jillian's Legacy from 2 On Your Side Reporter Dave McKinley and Photojournalist Bill Boyer.


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