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Giving life in death
Organs from teen killed in GSU accident save four
Tony and Susan Puckett review medical records and other documents pertaining to their late son Thomas, including a letters from a man who received Thomas’ liver. Thomas was killed in a construction accident in August. He is one of two people representing Georgia who are being honored on a float in Thursday’s Tournament of Roses parade. - photo by JAKE HALLMAN/Staff
    From death comes life in the case of Anthony Thomas Puckett Jr., a 17-year-old killed in a construction accident at Georgia Southern University in August.
    Puckett is gone, but because of the teen’s decision to become an organ donor, four other people have a new lease on life. And to honor Puckett’s selfless decision and to memorialize his compassionate, caring personality, LifeLink and the Heart to Heart Foundation chose him to represent Georgia in the Tournament of Roses parade on New Year’s Day.
    “We were contacted earlier this week by LifeLink, the people who coordinate organ donations,” Said Tony Puckett, Thomas’ father. “Thomas was selected to represent Georgia ... as an organ donor on a float.
    “All of the donors will have a rose on the float with their name  and a message on it,” he said. “The name of the float is ‘Stars of Life’ and the donors will have yellow roses – in the large stars on the front of the float,” he said.
    Puckett’s star reads “In memory of Anthony Thomas Puckett, Jr. “Thomas” — May this rose be a symbol of hope and healing. The Heart to Heart Foundation.”
    The memorial is part of the Family Circle Rose Dedication Program, Puckett said.
    The Family Circle Rose Dedication Program offers those touched by organ and tissue donation the opportunity to honor loved ones by dedicating a rose tagged with a personal message and placed in the Family Circle Garden.     The Garden is a living memorial on the Donate Life Rose Parade Float, which is seen by millions of people from around the world on New Year’s Day. More information can be found on Internet web site
    The honor is overwhelming for Tony Puckett and his wife, Susan. Tears welled from their eyes as they recalled their son’s love for life and compassion for others. And knowing he still lives, in a sense, through the recipients of his organs, means a great deal, Susan said.
    “To me, it’s very comforting,” she said. “My hope is that other recipients will respond to us.”
    Families of organ donors are allowed to send letters through LifeLink to those who receive the organs. Thomas’ heart went o a 29-year-old man. His left kidney and pancreas went to a “ divorced mother of three and grandmother,” while his right kidney went to a 17-year-old Georgia girl.
    His liver saved the life of a 62-year-old man who responded to the Puckett’s letter.
    “He is a 62 year old male who was an aviation electrician in the navy, then retired and became a technician in the aviation industry,” Puckett said. “He shared the many similarities  (with) Thomas. He had horses several years ago  ...  loves to hunt and fish and says he is looking forward to when he is strong enough to again.
    “He also had a ... Ford Bronco and says he is always getting calls from his buddies to pull them out when they are stuck.  ... His last paragraph stated,’I know you will miss your son most now around the holidays. I would like to assure you that he will be remembered at our house this Christmas season and always.’”
      Susan Puckett said her son was always pulling someone out of the ditch or helping them in some way. He enjoyed working on his own truck, loved riding horses, and enjoyed construction and the outdoors.
    She remembered when her son got his drivers’ license, and checked the organ donor spot. When asked about it, he said “ Well, yes, what good are they going to do me?” she said. “He was a very giving, loving person. That’s just how he was.’
    She said she especially hope to meet the man who received her son’s heart.
    Thomas was “ Always one to help anybody in need,” Tony Puckett said. :I reckon he’s still doing it.”
    Thomas Puckett finished his high school requirements and was joint-enrolled at Georgia Southern University throughout his senior year in high school. He would have entered his sophomore year at GSU at age 18, had he lived.
    Aug. 12, Puckett was at a construction site near GSU when a two-ton inverter slipped from a forklift and fell on him. He lived five days, and when doctors told his family brain-death was imminent, they chose to give the gift of life to others, as was Thomas’ wish, Susan Puckett said.
    Streams of friends visited Puckett in the hospital, and attended a posthumous birthday party Aug. 22, his birthday. Everyone enjoyed hamburgers and ribs, listened to the music Thomas liked, and remembered the teen as being a happy, giving spirit.
    “Thomas made you a better person for being his friend,” said family friend Rachel Jackson. “ He always had a smile and a unique way of looking at everything!  Even when something was troubling you he would make you remember how lucky you really were. He was the absolute best.”
    The Pucketts admitted the holidays were dampened by their loss, but are proud that their son gave to others even in his death.
    Susan Puckett clutched a thick binder filled with medical records and other documents pertaining to her son’s life, death and donation of his organs. Inside was a letter Thomas wrote to himself as part of a church project - a letter he was supposed to open a year after he wrote it last summer.
    The preacher at Thomas’ church gave the letter to the Pucketts. Brief and to the point, Thomas wrote:” Spend more time with God and less time hanging out and staying up late.”
     The 120th Rose Parade will be broadcast on ABC, NBC, HGTV, Travel Channel, RFD-TV and other channel Thursday, Jan. 1,  at 8 a.m.
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