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Paso Robles High teens hear story of love, loss and organ donation

jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Johnny May of San Luis Obispo quietly wiped tears from his eyes as he watched a video detailing the heartfelt appreciation of organ donor recipients nationwide.

“I didn’t know this was going to hit me like this,” May told 17 juniors and seniors during a class presentation Monday at Paso Robles High School. He was there to share with two classes the story of how his wife died last summer while waiting for a double lung transplant.

It’s been just seven months since she died, but the 32-year-old youth minister said he feels compelled to speak about it so her story can live on.

May’s late wife, Katie Noel (Parsons) May, died July 16, 2011, at UCLA Medical Center from a blood clot while waiting at the top of the list of the California Transplant Donor Network.

She needed a perfect match: a donor with two clean lungs who shared her blood type and was within three inches of her height, as well as other factors.

“She needed lungs, and she didn’t get them,” May said to the group of teens. “I wish she did. But man, she lived three lifetimes in her 27 years. I sure hope you guys do, too — wonderful, rich lives and relationships just like Katie.”

Katie May was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension disorder at age 20. The arteries to her lungs were more restricted than normal, and her heart would overcompensate by trying harder to pump blood through the smaller passages.

She was on pain medication and struggled with functioning on 30 to 40 percent lung capacity.

“But she was the type of girl that you’d just never know that,” May said. “You can just tell by looking at her that she emanates life and joy.”

He spoke about his favorite memories, such as how she never let her disease slow her down. Or how she took small risks, like playing lighthearted pranks at the hospital in her last days just to see others smile.

“She was always being playful,” he said.

One time, he recalled, his wife threw a banana into a gorilla habitat at the Santa Barbara Zoo and relished in a secret wink and grin with a little girl in the crowd.

May lit up when he spoke about his wife, often shedding happy tears, such as when he recalled her laughter.

The little moments May shared illustrated a love the pair had built since marrying Nov. 20, 2010. They met at a Young Life camp in 2008. There, they helped teach youths the benefits of knowing God by embracing the outdoors.

“When we were dating, she tried to give me an out,” he said. “We decided not to live in fear, but go forward. It was the best decision I have ever made in my life.”

Monday’s talk to the school’s anatomy and physiology classes was an effort through May’s friend, teacher Jon-Paul Ewing, who later Monday dressed up like Superman to encourage students to “become a hero” by registering as organ donors.

His classes will host a donor signup booth at lunch every day this week. Californians can register as donors at age 13, but ultimately it’s their parent’s decision until they turn 18.

High school senior Sidney Fraser received a cadaver tendon last fall after his knee was injured playing football.

“I’m lucky. It allows me to run and do the things I like to do,” he said. “I’m going to encourage my friends to sign up.”

How to become an organ donor

Sixteen people in San Luis Obispo County received transplants last year, and 139 people were still waiting as of fall 2011, according to data from TheCalifornia Transplant Donor Network. The agency serves Central and Northern California and northern Nevada. To register as an organ and tissue donor, visit at www.donatelifecalifornia.org or sign up at the Department of Motor Vehicles when getting a new driver’slicense or state identification card.

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