John Stussy was many things. A dreamer, a poet, a writer and a musician.
“He played the saxophone so beautifully,” said sister Angie Lavalais.
What many people didn’t know was that John was also troubled. It all started in 2007, John was just a teenager. He was at his home in Goodyear one day when his mom pulled out a gun, shot his father and then killed herself.
“It was really hard for him,” said Lavalais.
Around the same time but hundreds of miles away in Colorado, Elan Edwards was making a name for himself on the football field.
After high school, Elan enrolled at Brigham Young University. He played football at the school and would eventually get married.
The couple would have two boys and settle down back in Colorado. What seemed like a perfect took a dramatic change a few years later -- a doctor told Elan his kidneys were failing.
“Your normal life or any useable life is difficult to come by when you are real sick,” said Edwards.
Kristy LaFitte and Elan became friends while attending BYU together. Her husband was also on the football team and the couples became good friends. Kristy grew up in the Valley and was also good friends with Angie Lavalais. The two kept in touch mostly through Facebook and an occasional call or text.
A few months ago, Kristy noticed Angie posted a message on Facebook about her brother asking for prayers.
“You listen to them when they are hurting and try to be there for them,” said LaFitte.
What Kristy would soon learn is that a few days earlier John hanged himself and was in the hospital on life support.
“They (family) had a hard decision to make, and I just wanted to support them,” said LaFitte.
A couple days later, Angie and her family were in the hospital when John was taken off life support. What Kristy didn’t know is that Angie had looked up Elan on Facebook.
“I saw he had a wife and two kids, so it made the decision easier,” said Lavalais.
Angie wanted to donate John’s kidney to Elan.
“I wanted him to have it,” said Lavalais. The gesture, while kind, was also a longshot, the odds about 100,000 to 1.
“I prayed he would get it,” said Lavalais.
Call it a miracle or divine intervention but after 18 other possible matches for Elan failed, John’s kidney was a perfect match.
“It was an amazing gift for them to give me,” said Edwards.
Elan had his transplant surgery only a couple days after John died.
“I know they were going through a lot,” said Edwards.
The surgery went perfect and a few days later Elan was out of the hospital.
“The word we’ve been using is ‘miracle,’” said Edwards.
MEETING JOHN’S FAMILY
A few months after the surgery, Edwards and his family were coming to the Valley for a youth football camp. They had planned to spend some time with LaFitte and her family during the stay.
“Without her, I wouldn’t be here,” said Edwards.
LaFitte was the one who connected Elan and John’s family.
LaFitte had another idea – she suggested Elan and John’s family meet.
“I can’t explain what they did for me, it’s the most amazing gift of all,” said Edwards.
So with Edwards, his wife and kids in the kitchen of LaFitte’s home about 15 of John’s relatives showed up.
“Let’s do this,” said Edwards. Seconds later, Angie was the first one to walk around the corner and meet Elan.
“It was amazing to meet all of them,” said Edwards.
They both immediately started to cry after a short embrace there were another dozen hugs to hand out.
“If knowing their son or brother or cousin lives on in me, if it helps, that’s what I want,” said Edwards.
Every family member hugged Elan like he was family, a feeling that was mutual.
“I don’t know if it is a feeling you can describe, it’s just joy,” said Lavalias.
Soaking it all in as Elan and his wife hugged every member of John’s family was LaFitte. As tears rolled down her face, her smile said it all, and it’s a good thing because describing what she helped to accomplish was difficult.
“I don’t even know what the word is,” said LaFitte.
By the end of the night, Elan, Kristy and Angie were all laughing and sharing stories about their lives, their struggles and the one man who couldn’t be there.
To learn more about organ donation, visit the Donor Network of Arizona's website.