A father, a daughter and a new extended family

By Jodie Spears

Dean Baribeau of Little Rock is a huge advocate for organ and tissue donation. So, of course, he was proud when his daughter, Shannon, followed his lead and registered to become a donor when she got her driver’s license. 

Shannon Baribeau was an organ donor who died in 2013 at the age of 23. As an organ donor, she saved five people’s lives.

Shannon lived with her mother at the time, and Dean remembers the call. “She was more excited about being able to register as a donor than she was about getting her actual driver’s license,” Dean said. “It showed the kind of person she was. She loved helping people.”

Seven years later, that selfless act of registering to become a donor saved five people’s lives. Shannon died on Sept. 23, 2013, at the age of 23. Her heart, liver, lungs and both kidneys were donated to people in dire need of life-restoring transplants. 

Sixty-four percent of eligible individuals in Arkansas are registered as organ, tissue and eye donors, but there is still a gap between the need and donation.

Today, there are 114,000 Americans on the transplant waiting list and 300 of them are in Arkansas. Every 10 minutes, another person is added. Every day, 22 people die waiting for an organ that wasn’t available in time, according to ARORA, Arkansas’ largest organ and tissue recovery agency. ARORA serves 64 counties throughout the state. 

The ARORA team also works to educate and inspire more Arkansans to register to become donors. “When someone registers to become an organ, tissue and eye donor, they have the potential to save up to eight lives through organ donation and restore the lives of hundreds through tissue donation,” said Audrey Coleman, director of communications for ARORA.

For Dean’s part, rather than let Shannon’s donations be the end of a tragic story, he vowed to stay in touch with those recipients. The first step was writing letters.

Dean Baribeau (from left), with Linda and Thomas “Tom” Baugh. Tom was a recipient of one of Baribeau’s daughter’s kidneys.

“Connection between donor families and recipients can be healing for both parties. However, there is often anxiety on one or both sides,” said Beth Cameron, manager of family aftercare at ARORA. “We first recommend writing letters in order to ensure the decision to meet is something both parties want. From there, we can help facilitate meetings.” 

All but one of the five recipients wrote Dean back. He then met in person with both LaShaun Crum, the recipient of his daughter’s heart, and Tom Baugh, the recipient of one of his daughter’s kidneys, when they attended ARORA’s Celebration of Heroes Night at the Zoo. The event honors donors and their loved ones and takes place during Donate Life Month each April at the Little Rock Zoo.

“There wasn’t a dry eye in the house,” said Dean, speaking of the moment when he had the bittersweet experience of listening to Shannon’s heart in LaShaun’s chest. 

The two have stayed in contact and consider themselves to be extended family now. There is even a photo of Shannon on the wall at LaShaun’s home in Alabama. 

Dean also keeps in regular contact with Tom, who lives in Morrilton. They discovered some shared interests and have become good friends. The two visit a couple of times a year and chat on the phone a few times each month. 

“Our mission is to restore lives through organ and tissue donation,” Cameron said. “Of course, we restore the lives of recipients through organ and tissue recovery. We also work to restore the lives of and give hope to donor families who have lost loved ones. 

Organ, tissue and eye donation can be a healing, restoring process for all involved.”

To learn more about ARORA or to register to become an organ, tissue and eye donor, visit arora.org/donatelife, or register at the DMV and include it on your license.