Updated: October 19, 2020 09:18 PM
Created: October 19, 2020 07:30 PM
A 25-year-old man from Chanhassen, who died unexpectedly, was able to save the lives of four strangers through organ donation.
Jonathan Souvannalath, known to family and friends as Thon, was rushed to the hospital on Sept. 21 after suffering a severe asthma attack.
"The doctor pulled me aside and said, you know, due to being so unresponsive and no blood flow to the brain, we're going to try to close the organs down," said Thon's older brother, Jimmy Souvannalath.
The family was faced with the difficult decision of whether to donate Thon's organs.
"We had this family meeting in a room, talked about it and said, 'What would Jonathan want to do?' We knew Jonathan wanted to help people," Jimmy Souvannalath said.
The family said Thon's life calling was to serve others. He had battled heroin addiction for several years but got sober in 2017. He then started working as a drug and alcohol counselor in California, helping others through similar struggles. He also recently visited students in Chanhassen, sharing his life story and warning them about the dangers of opioids.
"He could literally relate to every single person's issue and listen," Jimmy Souvannalath said. "It didn't matter who you were, he would show up at any time of day, any time of night. He would show up and he would save you."
His mother, Holly Zybarth, added, "He'd see kids with no shoes and no shirt. He would take off his own shoes and give it to them."
The family said they felt donating Thon’s organs would carry on that legacy of saving others.
"He's a hero in our eyes, definitely a hero," said Carey Yath, Thon's fiance.
The family donated Thon's organs through LifeSource, an organ procurement organization serving Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and western Wisconsin.
LifeSource told 5 EYEWITNESS News, contrary to popular belief, organ donation is incredibly rare, with only about 1% of people able to do so. LifeSource said the circumstances of death have to align so that the donor dies at a hospital on ventilated support while experiencing brain death or a non-survivable injury.
"They said, 'Hey this is a really, really rare case. He's young, he's healthy and he's sober.' His sobriety was a big key," Jimmy Souvannalath said. "And they mentioned, Jonathan's blood type is O, so he can help anybody. He can give his organs to any blood type and he would match."
LifeSource said Thon’s organs ended up saving the lives of four people. His heart went to a 65-year-old man. His liver saved a 70-year-old woman. His left kidney went to a 56-year-old man and his right kidney went to a 54-year-old man.
Thon's fiance hopes to someday meet the man who received his heart.
"The one thing he always said was, no matter where he went or no matter where we were, that our hearts are always connected no matter what," Yath said.
The family said they do not plan to put a 'date of death' on Thon’s gravestone.
"When they pronounced him brain dead on the 24th, his heart was still beating. So to us, there's not an actual date of death because he's still going," Yath said.
The family said it gives them great comfort to know Thon is still helping others, even after his death.
"Yeah our prayers weren't answered. Our miracles weren't answered," Jimmy Souvannalath said. "But every other family out there that did pray for a miracle, their prayers got answered by him because he was the miracle."
According to LifeSource, there are more than 100,000 people across the country waiting for a life-saving transplant, with about 3,000 in the Upper Midwest. The organization said 22 people die every day while waiting for a transplant and a new name is added to the transplant waiting list every 10 minutes.
To learn more about organ donation, click here.
A GoFundMe page has been started to help Souvannalath's family through this difficult time. To donate, click here.
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