Overdose deaths push Ohio to record number of organ donations

Tony Shires' family donated his organs after he died from an overdose

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ohio's deadly opiate crisis has dominated headlines for years. But from those grim numbers comes a surprising new story: a record number of life-saving organ donations.

Tony Shires' can't-miss red beard was his signature. But when he was younger, he was known for something else.

"His friends called him the golden-heart boy," said his mother Beth Vermillion. "Because he had a heart of gold. Truly he loved everybody. He saw the good in everybody."

He and his wife Amanda fell in love in high school. In their 11 years together, they had three sons. "Riding bikes, sports, hockey. That was their best friend," Amanda said. "I couldn't ask for a better father for my children."

What began with a football injury in middle school, with medicine prescribed by a doctor, would dog him for the rest of his life.

"I gave him his first pill when he was 13- no, younger than 13," said Beth. "Once that pill entered his body, that receptor had opened up. And the desire of that high became his life."

Repeated stints in rehab, marriage, even fatherhood weren't enough to beat his addiction.

"At the end, he was just out of control. And it was hard to see because, underneath all of that, you knew who and what he really was. And what he didn't want to be," said Beth.
"He knew he had a problem," said Amanda. "He wanted the help. He didn't know how to control himself. He knew pretty much that he would end up dead if he couldn't get the help that he needed."

Last October, their worst fears became reality.

"When I turned the corner is when I saw him on the bathroom floor," said Amanda. "I could tell...his neck and ears were already discolored."

Within days, Tony was gone. But his family was presented with the opportunity for him to save someone else through organ donation.

"I just figured that due to the fact that he was an addict, his organs were no good. To get that surprise at the end of this horrible thing, I think was a small miracle," said Beth.

Tony Shires wasn't alone in his struggle or his gift.

"In 2017, 25 percent of our total organ donors were due to drug overdose," said Andrew Mullins with Lifeline of Ohio. That pushed Ohio to a record number of organ donations in 2017- a 33 percent increase over last year. "There's something good that's able to come out of something so terrible," Mullins said.

With addiction often comes shame, stigma, and misunderstanding. But that's not what Tony's family felt, or feels today.

"For him to save somebody else's life, even in death, that was a no-brainer for us," said Beth. "Because that's who he was."
"Proud," said Amanda. "He's our hero. He always has been. And still is."

Tony Shires was a registered organ donor who saved three lives. In Ohio alone, 2900 people are waiting for a transplant.

How you can help: https://lifelineofohio.org/become-a-donor/how-to-register/