The Tragedy of the Single-Vehicle Accident


"The normal inference is that the cause is operator error," a quote via Wikipedia's entry on single-vehicle accidents, i.e. speeding, driving while sleepy, driving while distracted, driving under the influence. These are the presumed factors contributing to the single-vehicle accident, in which the wreck involves just one car or truck, and only the driver and/or passengers in that particular vehicle are hurt.

Other factors may involve conditions largely outside the driver's control, such as poor weather, but the tragedy of many single-vehicle accidents is, had the driver not committed operator error, the possibility of serious injury (or death, in fewer cases) could have been minimized or avoided altogether.

In the case of Travis Donegan, only a high school junior when he was killed, the tragedy might have been avoided had Donegan been wearing a seatbelt. As it happened, however, Donegan's death turned into someone else's second chance at life.

'Dear Donor Family': A Story about Organ Donation

Long-time American journalist and magazine editor Richard B. Stolley, in a piece published in the October 2014 print edition of Real Simple Magazine titled "Dear Donor Family," wrote of "a child lost, a father saved, a lifetime bond established," in a story involving organ donation.

The story begins innocuously, like so many others: a teen heads out the door and drives away to visit friends, but not long after, the parents get a phone call about a wreck and are told to get to the hospital.

Donegan had run off the road and down into a ditch (investigators believed he'd lost control when trying to grab cassette tapes; this was 1993), "tumbling end over end," Stolley wrote, and, without his seatbelt buckled, Donegan was ejected from the vehicle.

Three days later doctors declared Donegan's brain death.

Donegan's family made the difficult decision to allow for the donation of their son's organs. This saved the life of Gerry Cole, who at 16 had suffered rheumatic fever, and had lived with a deteriorating heart ever since. Nearing 50, Cole wasn't expected to live much longer, unless he received a heart transplant. Today, as Stolley describes it, the two families share a lifetime bond created by Donegan's gift of life.

Would a Seatbelt Have Made a Difference?

Stolley doesn't make much of the fact that Donegan wasn't wearing a seatbelt, other than reporting that fact. It's worth pointing out, though, that wearing a seatbelt might have made a difference. The Donegans may not have lost their son. Fatal single-vehicle accidents - that could have been prevented by safer driving - are indeed tragedies. 

But that is about as far as it is worth going here.

Because it is pointless to speculate on whether Donegan would have survived - the accident happened, and nothing can take away the pain and grief that comes from losing a loved one, especially a child.

The Gift of Life

The reality is that without a heart, Cole (a father to four stepdaughters) was likely to die soon, at the relatively young age of 50. But in order for that to happen, a high school junior, just a teen, had to die.

In organ donation, tremendous grief and sorrow for one family (the donor's family) can also mean tremendous joy and relief for another (the recipient's family). Never has a gift been more accurately referred to as the "gift of life," a gift that appears to help mend the pain of loss: "[W]e would like to think that a little bit of Travis lives on in you," his parents told Cole. And Cole said: "Not only does Travis live on in me, he is what enables me to live."


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