COLUMBUS, Ohio (WTVN) -- An organ donation group was forced to go to court to get the organs of a brain dead man that signed up to be a donor. It was a decision Elijah Smith's family said they didn't know he made and they opposed it.
"This is something we would hope we would never have to do," said Marilyn Pongonis with Lifeline of Ohio. "This is the most extreme of measures."
Pongonis says it's vital that anyone who wishes to donate their organs discuss the issue with their family so that it doesn't come as a surprise.
"Tell them why it's an important decision to them so that the family can feel good at the time of their death about following those wishes," she said.
Smith made the decision to be an organ donor when he renewed his driver's license in September. His family didn't find out until July 4th when doctors at Grant Medical Center in Columbus declared Smith brain dead.
Smith's parents wrote a letter to Grant telling them that they did not want their son's organs harvested.
"We don't want our son to die like this," they wrote. However, under Ohio law only the donor can make the decision to change their choice to become a donor. It prompted Grant to request a court order from Lifeline of Ohio before they would proceed.
"This is the first time in Ohio that a family has been named in a suit to procure the organs," Pongonis said.
She says not only did they feel they had to honor Smith's wishes to donate, but they also had to act on behalf of those waiting for an organ transplant. There are about 118,000 people around the country waiting for a transplant. Each donor has the potential to save 8 lives, according to Pongonis.
Family members claimed they saw improvements in Smith's condition which is why they fought the decision to harvest his organs, but Pongonis pointed out that he only remained on a ventilator because he was an organ donor. Otherwise, she says, Smith would have not been able to survive on his own because he was brain dead.
Smith was in the hospital after being struck by a vehicle while he rode his bike early the morning of July 3rd.
(Photo courtesty: Megan Short/Clear Channel)