For this family, organ donation harvests comfort from tragedy

Lackawanna County mother recalls day she donated son’s eyes to Gift of Life program

On July 3, 2020, Lisa Barrett, director of The Wright Centers for Community Health and Graduate Medical Education’s 340B program, received an excited text message from her 19-year-old son, Jake. He said that, after work, he was going to pick up his first side-by-side all-terrain vehicle and wanted to take his mom for a ride on it.

Jake Barrett

An hour later, Barrett received a call of a very different sort.

“It was a very hot day,” recalls Barrett, a Scott Twp., Lackawanna County resident. “I got a call from Jake’s work. They told me he was having difficulty breathing and an ambulance was taking him to the hospital. I wasn’t that worried. How bad could it be? He was only 19. So, I jumped up and headed to the hospital just thinking maybe the heat got to him.”

At the hospital, her heart sank as staff asked her to sit and wait for the chaplain. “That’s when I knew,” Barrett says. “And I just lost it.”

Jake had died from sudden cardiac death (SCD),  a rare condition that occurs when a heart suddenly stops beating, unlike a heart attack that happens due to a blockage. “The whys and hows will probably never be answered,” said Lisa, recalling the tragic day to raise awareness for PA Donor Day on Aug. 1. “My life forever changed, and I will be forever waiting to be with him again.”

Despite her grief, Barrett answered her phone when the Gift of Life called. “They wanted to know if we would be willing to donate Jake’s corneas. As a young child, I watched my parents make a gift of life donation when my brother passed away. I knew he had saved lives and that it was a wonderful thing for my family,” she says. 

“So, I thought, if Jake’s beautiful blue eyes could open up the world for someone else to see through, he would want that. That’s the kind of person he was. He enjoyed life to the fullest and spent hours outdoors enjoying everything that nature had to show him.” 

Within a week, Barrett received two letters from grateful organ recipients, one a young man and the other an older woman. Both had their vision restored and could now see through Jake’s eyes. The knowledge that a little bit of Jake lived on comforted his mother, even as she coped with her own heartbreak.

“I believe we can all make the world a better place,” Barrett says. “We all have gifts to give. And I believe in organ donation – it’s the last and best gift anyone can offer.”  

Son and mother, Jake and Lisa Barrett, share a special moment after a football game.

Donate Life PA will conduct its fourth annual PA Donor Day on Aug. 1 to help raise awareness and increase organ donor registrations. More than 7,000 Pennsylvanians are waiting for life-saving transplants. Donate Life America also celebrates National Donate Life Month each April. For more information about organ donations and how to become an organ donor, visit the PA Donate Life website or the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation website at

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