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April 21, 2013

Organ donation takes center stage at Muller banquet

ANDERSON, Ind. — Barrett Younghans told the athletes in attendance Sunday at The Edgewood golf and dining club to enjoy their high school moments while they can.

Few understand how fleeting those moments can be better than the current Valparaiso University student. Younghans competed in football, baseball and swimming in high school, but all three sports were taken away from him at the age of 18 when he contracted a heart disease that required a transplant.

Younghans received a new heart two years later, and he now travels around the region speaking to groups just like the one at the Nick Muller Memorial Baseball Tournament’s annual banquet. He told the assembled players, coaches, athletic directors, parents and sponsors that he’s able to go to such speaking engagements only because of the generosity of an organ donor who saved his and eight other lives.

“I get called a hero whenever I speak somewhere like this,” Younghans said. “But the true heroes are the people who give organs.”

Younghans cited statistics that show one name is added to the organ transplant list in Indiana alone every 11 minutes. He urged the crowd to get involved by signing an organ donor card and estimated everyone in the room eventually will know someone who needs a transplant or whose gift was used to save others.

“There are not enough organs to go around,” Younghans said.

Another honoree was not able to attend Sunday’s banquet.

Anderson senior Alexa Morris, the winner of this year’s Nick Muller Memorial Scholarship, was at Butler University trying out to become a cheerleader there next fall.

After Younghans stepped down from the podium, and the 2013 all-tournament team was recognized, Bob and Kathy Muller came to the front of the room. Their son Nick died in a car crash 13 years ago, and the tournament is played each year in his honor.

Bob Muller shared a deeply personal story about the connection his family made with a single mother in Michigan who had received one of Nick’s kidneys. The relationship began when the Mullers received a letter from her — though she did not yet know who they were — thanking them for their son’s gift and wishing she could somehow ease their pain.

The families eventually met in Grand Rapids, Mich., and became friends.

Last November, 12 years after the transplant, the Mullers received another letter. This time it was from the transplant recipient’s mother, informing them her daughter had died in April.

Kathy Muller had given the woman a pendant featuring the insignia of a kidney, and the mother said she’d worn it every day. Now it belongs to a young girl and serves as a reminder both of her mother and of the 16-year-old boy whose untimely death and selfless gift allowed her to live long enough to get to know her.

“Organ donation changes lives,” Bob Muller said. “It really does.”

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