In October of 1994, neighborhood residents Lynda and Jackson Harrell were on a trip to Arkansas when they got a call that would forever change their lives.

 

 

          Their 21-year-old daughter, Leslie, a Lake Highlands High School graduate, was out for the night and had just dropped off some friends when something went wrong with her car. She walked to a nearby convenience store to call her boyfriend to come pick her up and then headed back to the car.

 

 

          “By the time he got there, he found the car, but he couldn’t find her,” Lynda says. Shortly after that, somebody in a pickup truck pulled up and yelled out to him: Do you know this girl?

 

 

Leslie Harrell was lying in the street, somewhere between 7-11 and her car, shot in the head.

 

 

By the time the police were able to locate the Harrells on their vacation, Leslie had been taken to the hospital and placed on life support.

 

 

“It was the longest drive of my life,” says Lynda of the trip home. “She had been declared brain dead. We knew that before we left Arkansas , but somehow you just don’t…” she pauses.

 

 

“You think, ‘Yeah, but it’ll be different if I get there.’”

 

 

It wasn’t, of course, and not long after coming to terms with the fact that they’d have to remove their daughter from life support, the Harrells had another battle to face.

 

 

Though the Harrells had never had a conversation with Leslie about organ donation, they knew it was what she’d want.

 

 

“Leslie was very conscious of people’s needs and was always trying to help people. I want to say that she was always helping birdies with broken wings … those types of situations,” says Jackson .

 

 

“We just couldn’t imagine that if she couldn’t be here that she wouldn’t want to try to help somebody else.”

 

 

They told the hospital chaplain that they wanted her organs donated. However, the medical examiner on duty quickly ruled out organ donation, claiming that it could harm potential evidence in the investigation.

 

 

The Harrells couldn’t accept that.

 

 

“Given the circumstances [of Leslie’s death], I was just determined that something good was going to come out of this,” Lynda says. Jackson adds, “For us it was also a way to, in a very small way, defeat the plans of whoever had killed her by letting a part of her live on.”

 

 

  So the couple contacted friends who knew the county commissioner at that time and were able to get another medical examiner down to the hospital who ruled differently.

 

 

As a result of the Harrells’ fight, one woman in Plano received a liver and a woman from Austin , who was in the process of making her own funeral arrangements, received Leslie’s heart and lungs. She lived five more years and got to welcome two more grandchildren into the world. When the Harrells met her Jackson says it was like “meeting a family member.”

 

 

“One really interesting thing was that Susan developed Leslie’s sneeze. [Leslie] did this little thing at the end where she would kind of bring air back in and make a little squeaking sound. It was funny and we always had a laugh,” he says.

 

 

“We just grew to be tremendously found of Susan,” Lynda adds.

 

 

Because Leslie’s murder has never been solved, organ donation is the only comfort the Harrells can take from that whole hellish period in their lives.

 

 

“There was a nurse at the hospital … who said to me, ‘There is someone out there tonight who is feeling as sad and hopeless as you are right now and you’ve just made it possible for them to wake up happy in the morning.’ And I’ll always remember that.”

 

 

Adds Jackson : “It’s very rewarding to know that your family helped another family keep an important person alive. It’s just a very rewarding feeling that comes out of a very horrible situation.”

 

 

 

 

The Marathon Man

 

          Mike Hyland knows what it’s like to wake up on the other side of a tragedy such as the Harrells.

 

 

          Hyland, who has lived in Lake Highlands with his wife, Delonna, since 1993, was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis when he was a 3-month-old infant. At the time, children with CF had a life expectancy of about 10 years. But the severity of CF cases often differs and though Hyland had a lot of problems very early on – including the removal of part of one lung “