ALSEA, Ore. (KOIN) – When the Rose Bowl parade rolls through the streets of Pasadena on New Year’s Day, one of the floats will honor those whose death provided life for others through organ donation.
One of those honored in the 2014 float from the non-profit Donate Life is a young man from Alsea. This is the story of how he changed many lives.
On the night of Feb. 12, 2012, Tyson Schreiber was driving alone along Highway 34 between Philomath and Alsea, Ore. It was a dark and foggy night.
His car drifted off the highway and hit a culvert. The 19-year-old wasn’t wearing a seat belt and was thrown from the truck. He suffered severe head trauma and within 12 hours was declared brain dead.
Schreiber was a star athlete at Alsea High School, an avid hunter and a fisherman. He was described as an all-around good kid.
The day he got his driver’s license, he signed up to be an organ donor. Tyson Schreiber saved his most heroic actions for the last hours of his life.
“He was 10 miles from home,” his sister, Whitney, said. “He was amazing at everything he did. You couldn’t ask for a better person. Hard worker, honest, willing to do anything for anyone.”
“I always looked up to him,” she said. “I always strived to be just like him. He was my best friend, a hero. My rock.”
His mother, Julie Schreiber, remembered how she felt when she heard the news. “I was sick. Totally sick.”
Whitney Schreiber added, “He had a big heart. He wanted to help everyone he could.”
“The doctors had said I probably wouldn’t live to 40,” Laura Ericks said. “I’m going to be 45 (on my next birthday.)”
A series of illnesses and toxic medication destroyed her kidneys and her vision. She’s also a diabetic, and her pancreas hadn’t worked since she was 16.
Ericks received Tyson Schreiber’s pancreas and kidney.
She can now eat without insulin shots and she stopped daily dialysis.
“I think about him every day,” she said. She said her transplant team encouraged her “to send a thank you note. But they also tell you don’t expect a response.”
THE CHANCE MEETING
In the months following his death, thank you notes came pouring in to the Schreibers from all the recipients of his organs.
“I was very surprised to hear from all of them,” Julie Schreiber said. “Two people received his corneas, so they see now.”
“The little boy received his heart on Valentine’s Day, and he’s doing great ever since,” Whitney Schreiber said.
Julie said, “I got Laura’s letter out. It’s a three-page letter. That’s how thankful she is.”
Though they agreed to exchange letters and information with Tyson’s organ recipients, they hadn’t made plans to meet any of them.
On the first anniversary of his death, Julie and Whitney went to a place they’d come to know very well — his grave site.
“I come all the time,” Julie said. “Whenever I feel like I need a visit with Tyson, I come up. He gets visited quite often … always have to come up and make sure it looks good.”
One day, she and her daughter were standing there visiting Tyson’s grave. “I was fixing something and here comes this car, and I’m like what the heck? Didn’t expect anybody to come up here.”
Laura Ericks and her husband had gone to the Oregon coast to celebrate Valentine’s Day a little early.
“So I said, ‘Can we please find where he’s buried?’ I said, ‘I cannot drive through this town, not one more time, without finding where he is and paying my respects and thanking him,'” she said.
Whitney Schreiber saw it unfold.
“Her and her husband walked down the road a ways, and then he says something to her and they turn around and come back.”
Ericks’ husband asked her what she wanted to do.
“I go, ‘I have to go over there and talk to them.’ So we approached slowly and I called out their names.”
She asked if the older woman was Julie Schreiber. It was.
“I go, ‘I’m really sorry. I didn’t plan this.’ And I said, ‘I’m Laura Ericks.'”
Julie Schreiber was excited.
“I’m like, oh my gosh. So I give her a big hug.”
Both Julie Schreiber and Laura Ericks prefer to think their chance meeting was choreographed by the young man they have in common.
“I know that Tyson would be so happy, looking down saying, yeah, I did that,” his mother said.
Ericks said, “It was one of those things that was meant to happen. Otherwise, it wouldn’t, because there’s no other way we would have been there at the same time.”
She has returned to visit Tyson Schreiber’s grave, privately.
But she left this note on the back of his cross: “My hero. Thank you for the gift of life. Laura.”
The note was found by Julie Schreiber.
“It was surreal knowing that she’s all healthy now and cared enough to come look him up, you know?” Julie said. “She didn’t know where he was. She didn’t have to drive by and look, but she wanted to.”
In the place where a mother comes to feel her son’s presence, a part of him found her again.