Surprising consequence to heroin crisis in NEO

Posted at 4:23 PM, Mar 01, 2016

There's a surprising consequence to the heroin epidemic in Northeast Ohio.

Lifesaving organ donations are on the rise.

More families are helping others, despite tragedy in their own lives.

In 2006, 49 people died from heroin overdoses in Cuyahoga County.

Last year, close to 300 people died from heroin, and a drug mixed with heroin called fentanyl.

Those startling numbers are heartbreaking for families who've lost loved ones.

But now, many of those families are turning their loss into saving lives.

"Adam was an amazing young man, he was a football player, a former boy scout, artist and musician." said Marlene Shay.

Shay told's Paul Kiska her son was an athlete in high school who got injured and started taking pain killers.

From there, she said, he started using illegal drugs for his pain, and eventually got hooked on heroin.

He died from an overdose.

Adam was 21 year's old.

"When Adam got his new driver's license at age 21, he made the decision to become an organ donor and we thought okay well that's a wonderful decision. Who knew six months later we would be honoring that decision. He was an extremely generous soul." Shay said.

Adam's kidneys and pancreas were donated,  saving the lives of two women, Shay said.

Lifebanc handles organ donations in Northeast Ohio.

"Our overdoses have increased by 50 percent in less than two years!"

Lifebanc's Heather Mekesa said there's a major shift in the cause of death in donor candidates. It's connected to the heroin crisis.

In 2013, 19 donor candidates were from overdoses. There were 25 in 2014, and that number shot up to 40 last year.

"The organs are always viable, we do many different tests with each of our donors, and just because someone passes away through an overdose and drug usage, doesn't rule them out for organ donation, " Mekesa said.

Leave no doubt, Lifebanc and Adam's mom would love to see the heroin epidemic go away.

"It's a horrible tragedy, but this is something that allows them to have something beautiful come out of such a devastating thing," Mekesa said.

"He gave the gift of life, he really did," Shay said.

Shay does speaking engagements, talking about the importance of organ donation.

Lifebanc said one donor can save up to eight lives and help up to 50 people.