ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – Two Abilene families on completely separate paths are now forever intertwined after tragedies took their children in 2014, just 11 days apart.

Rhonda Blanton proudly helped raise the “Donate Life” flag in front of Hendrick Hospital on Pine Street Tuesday morning.

She was honoring her late son, Casey Blanton, who was killed in an act of violence in 2014 in Abilene. However, Blanton said instead of focusing on the tragedy itself, she now looks to all of the lives impacted after her son’s death.

“He’s been helping people years later,” Blanton said. “The ripple effect is just unbelievable.”

Casey Blanton became an organ donor, and she says he lives on through those who have received his transplants.

Brenda Lee received Casey’s heart and was able to get connected to Rhonda Blanton, sparking a friendship that has grown as the years have gone by.

“It’s a very special friendship,” Blanton said. “It’s extra special to get to hear my son’s heartbeat again.” 

However, for the nearly 120,000 United States residents on the transplant waiting list, it can be a long, scary wait, readying themselves for their phone call.

“I mean it could be years, it just really depends on what organ’s needed,” the Southwest Transplant Alliance’s (STA) Shannen Simpson said.

Hendrick officials say every nine minutes another person is added to the national waitlist, and 17 people die waiting for an organ each day.

Simpson said any eye, tissue or organ donation helps bring a sense of normalcy back to people’s lives, especially after months or years of waiting.

She said the STA encourages having the tough conversations early on of what to do after death because it could help save someone else’s life soon after.

It was Wylie High School’s own Morgan Lee’s wish to become an organ donor soon after experiencing that trauma with a close friend. Morgan had that conversation with her parents, Stephen and Michelle, shortly after and they developed a game plan if something were to happen.

However, it seemed as though fate stepped in when Morgan was headed back to Lubbock from Abilene to return to college. Just two weeks after she had that conversation with her parents, Morgan Lee was killed in a car accident.

“It’s a little bit comforting knowing our loss is also helping someone who’s in need,” Stephen Lee said. “One life can affect so many other people in a positive way. That’s why the flag flying for a month will hopefully remind people to think about that and understand it a little bit more.”  

The “Donate Life” flag will fly from the Hendrick flagpole all April long in honor of National Donate a Life month.

If you’d like to donate or register to be an organ donor, visit donatelifetexas.org.

Hendrick officials say the next time you look at your driver’s license, consider making a change to be an organ donor because you never know who you might impact, as one organ donor can save up to eight lives.