York teen's heart beats on through organ donation

Katherine Ranzenberger

Home is where the heart is, and for Jordan Benkert’s heart, that means beating inside of Courtney Montgomery.

Lisa Benkert shows a photo of her son, Jordan, who committed suicide in 2011. The boy's organs went on to save four people's lives across the country.

The 21-year-old Asheville, North Carolina, woman received the heart in 2011, after 17-year-old Jordan committed suicide.

National Donor Day is Sunday, and Montgomery said she wouldn’t still be here if it weren’t for Jordan’s selfless gift.

Montgomery didn’t know she would get a second mom in the deal, too.

“Lisa (Benkert, Jordan’s mom) got in touch with me via a Facebook message,” she said. “She was really sweet and loving. Our families met, and it’s like we’ve known each other our whole lives.”

Lisa Benkert sits with Dwendy Johnson and shares stories about her son, Jordan. Jordan's heart beats on in Courtney Montgomery, who received the heart in 2011.

Lisa Benkert, from West Manchester Township, said she felt the same instant connection with the woman her son’s heart helped save.

“Right off the bat, there was a strong connection,” Benkert said. “It was just like our families blended. Ever since that day, we talk all the time.”

Benkert has been there for major milestones in Montgomery’s life that Jordan missed, including Montgomery’s high school graduation and 21st birthday.

“I get to see those things happen, and it eases Courtney knowing there’s no reason why she should feel survivor's guilt,” Benkert said. “Jordan lives on in her. Knowing a part of him is alive in someone else is really rewarding.”

Decision: The hardest decision Benkert has ever had to make was in the hospital on Easter in 2011. Her son was lying in the bed with no brain activity, and a woman from Gift of Life asked her if she wanted to donate his organs. Benkert said she was still positive she would walk out of the hospital with her son that day.

“I’m an organ donor. I always have been,” she said. “I could not let another mother feel what I was feeling.”

Jordan’s heart was the first organ to find a match. One kidney is thriving in a man in Wisconsin, Benkert said. His other kidney and his liver are helping a grandmother see her grandchildren grow in Philadelphia. His lungs are functioning in another girl in North Carolina.

“That split-second decision can change so many lives,” Benkert said. “It’s not just major organs either. Tissues and muscles can help burn victims.”

Lisa Benkert wears a bracelet for her son, Jordan, who committed suicide in 2011. The boy's organs went on to save four people's lives across the country.

Dwendy Johnson, community relations team leader with the Gift of Life Donor Program, said one person can change the lives of 50 people through organ donation.

“In Pennsylvania, there are more than 8,000 people waiting for an organ,” Johnson said. “They could be male or female, young or old. It doesn’t matter. You could save them.”

Johnson said Benkert and Montgomery’s story is unique, but that shouldn’t stop someone from registering to become an organ donor.

“Jordan has left a legacy,” she said. “His spirit and his heart live on. People can help others and register to be a donor when they get their license. They can also register online to become an organ donor.”

Benkert said she hopes more people will become organ donors in Pennsylvania so their legacies can live on as well.

“I am so glad I made that decision,” she said. “His heart is beating on through someone else.”

For more information on becoming an organ donor in Pennsylvania, visit donors1.org.