On Sunday, an ambulance took Jeremy Booth from Napa to his final journey – to the hospital where his organs would give at least two other people a second chance at life.
“In Jesus’ name we pray: Amen,” a chaplain intoned at 8:35 a.m. in the parking lot of Queen of the Valley Medical Center as family members and friends laid hands on the 24-year-old Booth for the final time. A few minutes later, two attendants loaded a gurney holding Booth – unconscious and on life support since an industrial accident five days earlier – into a purple-and-white ambulance headed for San Ramon Regional Medical Center.
There, his heart and one kidney were slated for transplant in one patient, while another patient was to receive Booth’s liver and his other kidney, according to family members.
On a day of sobs, hugs and whispered condolences, the idea that Booth’s body would live on in others gave his loved ones a ray of hope amid their loss.
An hour before his final ride, as relatives took the elevator to a third-floor corridor in the Queen’s intensive-care unit, a nurse sidled over to Karen Graff, a longtime friend of Booth’s family.
“He’s a true hero,” the nurse said gently.
“He is a hero,” Graff answered, eyes welling.
Booth was clinging to life in the same hospital where it began, on Halloween 1992.
“He’s like my little brother – I remember him from when he came out of the womb,” said Graff. “I said, ‘Oh my gosh, he looks like Mr. Magoo!’ because he had that cute, little, boopy nose. He’ll always be my little Mr. Magoo.”
“We’re just trying to focus on the fact he’s saving lives today,” she said, sharing the same wearied, sleepless look as the other members of the vigil. “It’s what you have to do to get through all of it.”
A transplant team took over Booth’s care on Wednesday, the day after Booth, an employee of Gorilla Tree Service, suffered a life-threatening injury while operating a wood chipper at a job site on Karen Drive.
Though family members had not known it before the incident, Booth, a father of two, had registered as an organ donor on a 2011 visit to the Department of Motor Vehicles. Because his body was in good condition despite his grave injury, his organs were available to help save others, said Christy Deyerle, his older sister.
“Jeremy made a wonderful decision and a very unselfish decision to be a donor,” she said on Saturday.
“We’re happy for the families that are going to be saved,” added Danielle Masters, another sister.
Masters said that it’s a blessing that her brother will be able to save so many other lives. The family looks forward to knowing about the individuals who his organs will help, she said.
“It was really important to him; he probably decided on it before we even met,” said Jessica Titus, the mother of Booth’s children. “We went to the DMV and registered the same day. He would say, ‘Well, I’m not gonna need it then, so someone else may well have it.’”
Staff members at the Queen meet with the family members to learn if a critically injured patient has registered as an organ donor, according to Vanessa deGier, spokeswoman for St. Joseph Health.
If a patient has expressed that wish through the DMV (indicated by a pink dot on one’s driver license) or a living will, volunteers connected to the United Network for Organ Sharing, the nonprofit that coordinates a nationwide list of organs and patients needing them, contact the hospital and the family, deGier said.
During the wait for the ambulance, the grief briefly lifted among his family and friends as they shared memories of Booth, the youngest of six children – his love of the outdoors, his enthusiastic if rough-and-ready dancing, his bright nature that made him the life of almost any gathering.
“He liked the hunting, the fishing, the boating, the mudding,” said a sister-in-law, Christina Masters. “He lived in Napa. He lived it.”
“He’d be the first one dancing and the last off the floor. He thought he was a good dancer!” his niece, Kalie Booth, said, managing a laugh.
At last, after nearly an hour of waiting, the time came for those closest to Booth to say goodbye. As the gurney was wheeled to the ambulance’s rear hatch, they formed two lines beside him.
“I want to thank you for his precious life,” Lee Shaw, the chaplain, said with eyes closed while Booth’s loved ones flocked his stretcher on two sides, laying hands on him from bearded face to blanketed feet. “We recognize that Jeremy was a beautiful gift. We thank you for all the fun and all the good Jeremy brought to everyone’s lives.”
The prayer over, Shaw looked up again. Someone had placed an orange ballcap on Booth’s head, the final gift to the man whose body would soon become a gift itself.
“Let’s do it,” said the chaplain. “He looks good with the cap on. I think he’s ready to travel.”
Kalie Booth held her right hand to her forehead in a salute. Christy Deyerle waved toward the ambulance as its rear doors slammed shut.
The engine started, the vehicle slowly rounded the corner of the hospital building, and Jeremy Booth was gone.
Register reporter Maria Sestito contributed to this report.