Tragedy becomes hope through a gift of life

Korey Taphouse (Courtesy: WOOD TV)

HUDSONVILLE, Mich. (WOOD) — A wife’s worst nightmare came true for a young Michigan mother when she learned her husband was killed in a hit-and-run crash as he walked along a busy street in Georgetown Township.

But despite the grief of a family that includes two preschool daughters left without a father, there is a glimmer of hope thanks to the gift of organ donation.

Emily Friar met the love of her life, Korey Taphouse, in 2007 and a few years later they were married and raising a young family in a new house in Jenison.

“He wasn’t afraid to roll around on the ground and make goofy voices and dance and it was great for them. They just had the world’s silliest daddy. Which was wonderful,” said Taphouse.

But Korey was killed in a crash as he went for a walk around 5:50 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 27 beside Port Sheldon Street, near 48th Avenue near his home.

Police say 46-year-old Heidi Vanderbie was driving west on Port Sheldon when her vehicle struck Taphouse. She allegedly told police she thought she hit a deer, so she drove home and called 911.

“There’s no sidewalks or streetlights — which have been a battle in Georgetown Township to get those,” she said. “It’s dark, it’s not safe, not everybody’s driving — people need to walk to get from here to there.”

Emily soon found herself at Butterworth Hospital knowing her husband was essentially brain dead.

“They take you into kind of like a conference room so you know it’s probably not the best news,” Emily said.

She then had to make the most difficult decision imaginable.

“Because he’s an organ donor, you have to make that choice first — you have to decide if you’re going to follow through with that because if you do, there’s a process you follow,” he said. “It’s really hard. But we made a decision, I mean it’s what he wanted to do, we’d had that discussion.”

She said the experience with the doctors and Gift of Life team that helps coordinate donors and recipients was more than she could have hoped for.

“They kept him warm and took care of him like anybody else and I had nurses that would cry with means it helped get through those insane days,” she said. “Right up until the end they just treated him just how we wanted him to be treated,” she said.

After that came the planning for the memorial and the trying to go on with life, figuring out what’s next — and of course the grief.

An outpouring of support from Korey’s many friends and the co-workers at Grand Rapids Harley Davidson — a company he worked for since he was 17.

Then came a letter from Gift of life that explained how Korey’s organs had been used.

“He ended up saving four different people.”

The pancreas and Liver went to one person. The kidneys to another two people and the heart to a fourth. His donations are also used for skin grafts and his bone and tissues also are used.

“It’s literally the only good thing that could possibly come out of this,” Taphouse said. “As hard as it’s been, I am just very thankful that those people got another chance because of him.”

She said she hopes the people who got her husband’s organs answer the letter she writes to them so she and her daughters can see the good their father has done.

“That his heart is beating in someone else and that person get to live and experience life and be there for their family and get a second chance.”

Emily said the experience has been transformative, not just for her. Their 4-year-old daughter Hazel has also benefited.

“I got to tell her even though we don’t have daddy anymore, you know, he’s a superhero — he got to save lives, he actually saved people’s lives and that made her so happy, she is, she’s so proud,” Emily said.

“You know I am proud of him,” Hazel said.

“I know you are,” Her mom replied.

In the U.S., 123,000 people are waiting for vital organs – including 3,100 in Michigan — and 21 people die nationally each day while waiting.