Livingston bike event honors organ donor

Gift of pancreas saved another man's life in 2004

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comDecember 9, 2012 

Ten days before Christmas, Petaluma resident Janice MacKinnon received a call that would change her life.

It was Dec. 15, 2004, and after battling uncontrollable and debilitating Type I diabetes, MacKinnon's 19-year-old son, Jake, was being given a second chance.

A few weeks earlier, Jake's doctors at the University of California at San Francisco delivered a disheartening diagnosis: His only option to live a quality life would be an organ transplant.

Two days before the phone call and more than 145 miles away, a Livingston family was grieving the loss of 20-year-old Kalem Millard.

Athletic and outgoing, Millard's life was cut tragically short Dec. 13 in an ATV accident.

A phone call from a transplant donor network brought these two families together and linked them for life. Sunday, they came together again in Livingston to donate bicycles to needy kids in honor of Millard.

Millard's pancreas was a perfect match for Jake MacKinnon, whose diabetes often confined him to the house. Janice MacKinnon had mixed emotions after learning an organ donor had been found for her son.

"I got in my car and thought, 'Oh, my God, someone's lost someone they love.' " MacKinnon said. She called her son, and a few hours later, the doctors were performing the transplant.

There were many hurdles to overcome -- Jake MacKinnon's body could have rejected Millard's pancreas -- but Janice MacKinnon said the doctors told her it "fit like a glove." Her son has had much-improved quality of life ever since.

Three months later, Janice MacKinnon decided to write a letter to the family that gave her son the gift of a new life.

Kalem Millard's mother, Tish Millard, received the letter on her birthday.

"I can't even describe how it felt," she said. "I went home and wrote a letter back. I didn't know how to react."

The two families became friends and began a bicycle donating program in Kalem Millard's honor.

For a third year, the two families met at the Livingston police station Sunday and donated 39 bikes to children in need.

"It keeps his memory alive," Tish Millard said. "Kalem would think this is the greatest thing in the world."

Livingston Police Chief Ruben Chavez said a picture of Kalem will be attached to each donated bike so he can live on through them.

"It's not just one family organ transplants touch," said Tish Millard.

Kalem's heart, kidney and liver were also donated -- but the family hasn't spoken to any of the recipients.

Kalem Millard's father, Bill Millard, who's also on the donor registry in need of a kidney, said this allows his son to live on.

"Part of our son is still alive," he said. "Knowing his death wasn't a total loss."

Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.com.

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