RALEIGH, N.C. — When Ryan Benton Evans died in 2008, donating all his organs to strangers in need throughout the Carolinas and beyond, his final gift was profoundly personal for one recipient.
His mother, Delores Benton Evans, received her son's left kidney — the first-ever organ transplant between a deceased child and parent at UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill.
That fateful twist of life and death and life is being honored today as Benton Evans appears in the Rose Parade in Pasadena, Calif., as one of 24 organ recipients, candidates and donor family members riding on the annual Donate Life float.
Benton Evans, 62, of Durham, was selected after winning a national essay contest about organ transplantation. She now advocates organ transplants as a volunteer for Carolina Donor Services, the procurement agency that serves the Triangle.
Her journey began 30 years ago, when she was diagnosed with kidney disease. Despite the illness, the cause of which was never pinpointed, she had three children, earned a law degree at N.C. Central University and a bachelor's in social work from UNC-Chapel Hill.
But by January 2008, her ailing kidneys failed. She started dialysis and joined 83,000 other Americans on the kidney donation waiting list.
Two relatives, including her youngest son, Ryan, tested to see whether they could offer one of their kidneys as a living donor. Both were ruled ineligible. Although Ryan was a match, he was disqualified because he carried the sickle cell trait, which would have stressed his remaining kidney too badly.
Then on Nov. 18, 2008, Ryan died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
"We made the decision to donate his organs not knowing I would be a recipient," Benton Evans said. After the family made Ryan's donation wishes known, everyone suddenly realized that at least one of his kidneys could be directed to Benton Evans.
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