The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

July 27, 2012

The greatest gift: 21-year-old man’s organs saved lives of others

Ruth Rice

— On June 9, Ernie and Donna George lost their only child, David, when his all-terrain vehicle overturned while he was riding in Starford.

The Strongstown couple can take comfort in the fact that their son will live on not only in their memories, but also by helping others after his death.

David, who was 21, was an organ donor and has saved three lives that his parents know about, with the possibility of more to come.

“Two people got a kidney and another got his liver,” his mother said. “They were supposed to use his heart valves, but we haven’t heard about that yet.”

David’s decision to become an organ donor was casual but accepted as a matter of course.

“I took him for his photo ID and asked if he had selected the button to be an organ donor,” his mother said. “He said ‘If I did, I did.’ He was not a worrier.”

A representative of the Center for Organ Recovery and Education was at the hospital after David was brought in.

“They asked if we wanted to do this for sure,” Donna George said. “I told them yes, but only the life-saving organs. They let us go back and see him right up until they took him away. They sent letters to the recipients, but we can’t contact them yet.”

Those who came to pay their respects at Askew-Houser Funeral Home in Nanty Glo stood in line for more than an hour to tell his parents about something David had done for them.

His mother remembered that on school trips, David always made everyone laugh.

“His teachers said he walked in with a smile and walked out with a smile,” Donna George said. “In grade school, he fixed a pencil sharpener, stapler and fan for his teacher. There were things we didn’t know he did.”

David helped his neighbors with flat tires and plowing snow out of their driveways, and always gave willingly to his friends.

The procession to the cemetery was more than two miles long.

“We want to thank everyone for everything they’ve done,” Donna George said. “People brought food, water, paper supplies. It was amazing. We’re getting letters from people we don’t know.”

David’s friends held a memorial run for him July 7 to raise funds for funeral expenses.

“They had 46 to 47 bikes, some riding double, and rode about 40 miles,” Donna George said. “We’re thinking of making it annual in his memory.”

David had been riding ATVs since he was 6 years old.

He rode with friends as a member of Tri-County ATV and was a member of Twin Counties Snowmobile Club and Rescue.

David went on a snowmobile trip to New York this past winter, and when a sudden snow came in April, he built a huge snowman in the front yard.

He learned about welding from his father, who is a shipping supervisor for FreightCar America Inc., and about building souped-up garden tractors from his grandfather, Don Boring.

David was a member of Equalizer Garden Tractor Pulling, which holds events in Westmoreland and Fayette counties.

He and his friends were involved with tractor pulls at the Cookport Fair and other fairs nearly every weekend.

“With tractors, you pretty much tear them apart and rebuild them from the ground up,” Ernie George said. “He also loved to fix up four-wheelers and sell them to make money.”

David was no stranger to tearing things apart to make them work better. When he was young, he took apart Matchbox cars to try to put in new and bigger axles.

For his graduation project at Penns Manor High School, where he was president of Future Farmers of America, David built a tractor he called the Hightech Redneck.

David graduated from Penns Manor in 2010 and got certified at Indiana County Technology Center as a machinist.

He enjoyed tinkering in the family garage with his four-wheelers, snowmobiles and pulling tractors, earning the nickname “old junk man.”

David got some help and advice at the nearby Ark’s Garage, where he liked to hang out with the guys.

He worked at MGK Technologies in Homer City as a machinist.

Donna George has many fond memories of her son.

“He loved ‘Dukes of Hazzard,’ ” she said. “He kept his truck and quads clean – everything except his bedroom.

“He was a sentimental kid. When he was little, he had a toy truck that he and grandfather made a plough for, and he wouldn’t let me give it away,” she said. “He always made sure everyone else was safe and wore their helmet.”

David played guitar and liked old country music.

His grandfather got him interested in playing, and he took lessons and played on his own or with his buddies.

For a time, David went hunting and fishing with his father, and took his arrows apart to make improvements.

The George family always enjoyed camping and had a permanent site at Wheel-In Campground in Shelocta for six or seven years.

“David grew up there from the time he was little until he was in high school,” his mother said.

Ernie and Donna George enjoy traveling together. They have gone to Colorado on a train, visited Tennessee and took a cruise to Grand Cayman and Jamaica.

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