FAIRFIELD — It’s a typical night at Fairfield High School.
The volleyball team is on the floor, there’s laughter in the student cheering section.
But something is missing.
Lauryn Goldhahn’s No. 5 jersey is draped across a chair on the Fairfield bench. Her locker is decorated in the hallway. Plenty of reminders of the vibrant, athletic 15-year-old. But Lauryn herself is gone.
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Her father Pat Goldhahn recalls Friday, Aug. 26 vividly.
“I remember working in the crow’s nest and the siren went off,” he said. “About 10 minutes after that, I get call from my wife and she said that we got to go. She was in kind of shock, she said, ‘Lauryn’s been in an accident. She’s being taken to Great Falls. We have to get there.’”
Lauryn was a passenger in a vehicle that lost control on a dirt road near Fairfield. She and a friend were returning from a volleyball team dinner when she was ejected from the car as it rolled. Lauryn wasn’t wearing a seat-belt.
Her injuries were severe enough that she was airlifted from Great Falls to Seattle. The full extent was unknown, and the Goldhahns held out hope.
“When we first got (to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle), we had hope that she would wake up,” said Lauryn’s mother Windie Goldhahn. “That we could bring her home.”
That hope quickly faded.
“When we arrived, we got some news that they had removed a blood clot from her brain,” Pat said. “They let us in to see her and I tell you what, walking into Harborview and seeing your daughter with her head shaven, and you could tell part of her skull had been removed …”
His words trailed off.
“Every parent’s worst nightmare.”
Devastating news followed.
“After they ran her through a series of tests, she was legally declared brain dead at 11:47 on Saturday night on August 27th,” Pat recalled. “Windie, (oldest daughter) Allix and I stayed with her for two more days as she laid in the hospital bed. We still touched her, we talked to her and cried with her.”
The Goldhahn family faced an impossible decision.
“It was a long four days out there,” Pat said. “It came pretty fast that they wanted to talk to us about organ gifting.”
Pat and Windie said yes. To understand their decision, you have to understand Lauryn.
“She just had a gift for making friends and making people feel like they were her closest friends,” Windie described her daughter. “It didn’t matter if she had known them for five minutes or five years. She could light up any room she walked into.”
In just 15 short years, Lauryn touched countless lives. She was kind, warm-hearted and generous with friends, family and strangers. And so it made sense that her organs would be used to save lives of people she’ll never meet.
“It’s not going to bring her back, but to know that she’s still helping others is fitting,” said Pat. “That’s what Lauryn did, that’s who Lauryn was. Our family is like that, we just believe in helping people.”
“It’s so amazing, when people say that was so courageous of a decision or that they’re proud of us for making that choice. It really wasn’t even a choice,” said Windie. “As soon as they mentioned it, it was like, yeah, she’s got to do this – it’s what she would want to do.”
“If any small part of her can live on in someone else that means a little part of her is still here,” she said.
Lauryn’s heart, liver, kidneys, cornea and other tissues will be used to save lives. Which is exactly how she would have wanted it. And the Goldhahns hold out hope that they’ll be able meet the recipients some day and tell them about their courageous, kind-hearted daughter.
“One of the things that’s breaking my heart is thinking about all the things that we’re going to miss,” said Pat. “Like senior night and graduation, not being able to walk my daughter down the aisle is heartbreaking. I truly, truly hope that the individual that got her heart we get to eventually one day meet. They better hold on because she had a heck of a heart.
“They’re going to truly, truly enjoy life and they’re going to take on some of those characteristics. And ultimately whether it was a boy or a girl, I’d like to be there when they have that special day.”
The grieving process is different for everyone. But for the Goldhahns the path to healing began with a decision. One that turned tragedy into an opportunity to save lives.