Eileen Grugan’s worst fear came true on October 12, 2011. The mother of three returned home from work to find her son, Charles Grugan, who battled drug addiction for more than a decade, unresponsive and hunched on the living room floor of their Wayne, Pennsylvania, home.
“His eyes were still wide open and he was gray,” Eileen tells Us Weekly in a new interview. “He wasn’t breathing.”
When paramedics arrived, they were able to revive Charles, 33, with CPR. “I think he went up to heaven and God said, ‘Either stay up here with me or I can send you back down and you can do a little bit more work for me.’” Eileen tells Us. And she was right.
Three days later, when Charles was pronounced brain-dead from a heroin overdose, his parents honored his wish to be an organ donor. “When Charles got his license he told us, ‘It’s the right thing to do. Why wouldn’t I do it?’” recalls Eileen. It’s a decision that saved the lives of three men — and continues to bring his family tremendous comfort.
“One gentleman got Charles’ heart, one got his kidneys and another man received his liver,” Eileen tells Us. “It was our silver lining. It’s as if Charles never left us at all. His immortality is ever-growing.”
Charles’ photographer sister, Carolyn Noll, echoed the sentiment. “From sorrow we found hope, and from such a terrible loss we all received a tremendous gift,” she tells Us.
Since drug users are viewed as high-risk donors, Charles’ organs underwent an intensive screening process for infections such as HIV and hepatitis C before they were cleared for a transplant, CBS News reported November 16. According to CBS, which interviewed several experts, more and more transplant centers are using organs donated from overdose deaths rather than keep terminally ill patients waiting.
Eileen, 66, says Charles began experimenting with pills including Percocet in high school before moving on to heroin, and he completed seven stints in rehab. “I would think, ‘He’s going to die alone in some alley, or in a car by himself in the winter,’” says Eileen, who advocates for the Gift of Life Donor Program, a nonprofit organization that helps recover and distribute organs from transplant procedures. “We tried tough love, we tried therapy, we tried everything. The disease was just bigger than him. And he was a pretty big person in my eyes.”
Drug overdoses are the leading cause of death in the U.S, the Drug Enforcement Agency announced in 2015.
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