Two years ago, around 150 Bellevue firefighters lined the halls of Virginia Mason Hospital to say goodbye to their comrade, Deanna Carr. An American flag had been draped over the body of the firefighter of 22 years as doctors wheeled her body into the operating room to start the organ donation process.
“They were awash in emotion. They had never seen anything like this before,” former Bellevue firefighter and current Deputy Chief of Eastside Fire and Rescue Richard Burke said. “But that was the respect and what she deserved. That was our way of keeping her memory alive.”
But in the midst of their sorrow, the crowd found a reason to smile. Even in her death, Carr was giving the gift of life.
“The thing that I remember most were the faces of everyone that was there — her friends, her family and her coworkers. Everyone’s face sticks out to me because there was so much to read. First and foremost, a lot of grief. I thought, “Wow, this person must have really, really mattered to people,’ because the loss is so powerful and I can see how much pain, how much sadness, how much longing is in everyone’s face. And then I saw something really beautiful happen. As the process started to switch and we began to accept the very unfortunate truth that Deanna was not going to survive, I started to see pride on people’s faces. It really was about the way the conversation shifted to: Deanna’s going to save lives,” said LifeCenter Northwest employee Jonathan Merker, who works with families like Carr’s to arrange organ donations.
On Nov. 14, members of the Bellevue Fire Department gathered again to share stories of Carr as her family placed the finishing touches on a memorial portrait for Donate Life’s Rose Parade float on Jan. 2, 2017.
Carr is one of a group of organ donors being honored by the organization, which helps facilitate organ transplants. Each donor’s image was painted with seeds and other natural materials and people whose lives have been saved through organ donations will walk alongside the float.
Helping others through organ donation was a natural conclusion of Carr’s life, those close to her said. She loved being a firefighter and helping people during her 22 years of service.
Carr died in October 2014 after a diving accident. Despite the inherent dangers of the job, the Bellevue Fire Department has never lost a firefighter in the line of duty. Carr’s death during a recreational activity hit the fire department and her family hard.
“She was here one day and then gone … We didn’t have any time to reconcile this in our brains, it was just upon us,” said Burke, who entered the fire department around the same time as Carr and trained with her.
In the aftermath, Bellevue fire brought specialists from an organ donation center to give a presentation to paramedics about organ donation and what they could do to help in the field and in their everyday lives.
Multiple people received organ donations from Carr. Surgeons were able to use her lungs, kidneys and liver.
“If we can help somebody in our passing, that’s important. If we can help another family … what a great tribute,” Burke said.