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Giving the gift of life: 21-year-old Sac City, IA woman donates organs

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Courtney Graffunder
Courtney's Memorial
Courtney Graffunder3
Courtney with her paralegal degree
Courtney Graffunder5
Courtney with her boyfriend Tony
Courtney Graffunder4
Courtney with her racing certificate
Courtney Graffunder6
Courtney Graffunder

ULMER, I.A. (KTIV) -- It's been two months since a Sac City, Iowa woman was killed in a car accident near Early Iowa. Courtney Graffunder was just 21-years-old when her life was cut short. Tuesday would have been her 22nd birthday.

"I was so proud of her," said Shelly Graffunder, Courtney's Mom "I'm very proud of her. I'm a very proud mom."

At the age of 21, Courtney Graffunder was the bright light in the room. Smart, strong-willed, a bit stubborn, with a giant personality. Courtney was working on her bachelor's degree as a paralegal as a step to one day achieving her dream to be a lawyer.

"She would be in mock trial in high school and she loved it," said Shelly. "When she got into that, that's kind of when she decided she wanted to be a lawyer. It kind of went from there. If that's what she wanted, that's what she was going to try and do and do it right."

Courtney's passions continued out of the classroom to the race track.

"Her pit crew was her dad," said Shelly. "He just couldn't get enough of it either. He was so proud of her."

Over the years, Courtney quickly earned the respect of the other racers.
But her drive and the whole reason she did it was the kids.

"She'd be mad after a race, something would break or she wouldn't get as good as she wanted, she'd want to quit," said Tony Eddy, Courtney's Boyfriend. "She'd say I'm done racing, I'm selling all the cars and then little kids would come up and ask for her autograph and want to take pictures with her and she would just light up with a smile."

Courtney loved her racing car. It was the car she and her dad worked on. The car she used to inspire so many young girls. But, Courtney's inspiring work didn't just stop on the track.

Courtney was an organ donor. A simple check of the box, that ended up being one of her greatest gifts. On December 14th, Courtney tragically lost her life in a car accident.

"Hoping that I'd get there and she was just playing another prank on me and I'd see her car in the driveway but got there, and it was the sheriff sitting there and then it all started hitting me and it's just horrible without her now," said Tony. "Doesn't feel like it's real most of the time."

"I just walked up to her, and I just held her and she was cold, and I warmed her hands and it was not a good day," said Shelly. "That's my baby, my youngest daughter."

These past few months have been difficult for Courtney's family. But, knowing that her light is still shining brings them some comfort.

"It feels good knowing that she is still living on through people and I know she would absolutely love the fact that she is still helping people," said Tony.

"The feeling you get from knowing your child is kind of, sort of living on and helping other people, means the world to me," said Shelly.

In fact, Courtney's gift has already helped restore eyesight to two people.
Her family, receiving a letter in the mail.

"We hope you may be consoled with the knowledge that two people with seriously impaired vision have received corneal transplants as a result of your loved one's gift," read Shelly.

But, she's not done there. Shelly said Courtney could help up to 200 people.

"She's helping people," said Shelly. "She loved to help people. And she can go on helping people."

When asked what she would say to her forever 21-year old daughter...

"I can't bring you back," said Shelly. "If I could I would so you could finish out everything you wanted to do and I love you. I will not say goodbye. I will say, I'll see you later."

Shelly said the track in Fort Dodge, where Courtney has raced before, is planning to have memorial runs for her. Shelly said they'll take her purple sparkle car out for that.

So why donate and what impact can it have?

Over 100,000 people are waiting for a life-saving transplant. But, 20 people die each day waiting and every 10 minutes a new person is added to that list, in need of a transplant. However, only one percent of people who die, actually qualify to be a donor.

One simple decision, becoming a registered donor, gives hope to those in need of organs and tissue. Becoming an organ donor throughout all three Siouxland states is simple. You can either check the box when you get your driver's license or register online or by mail.

"Organ donation is so important to save the lives of others," said John Jorgensen, Iowa Donor Network Donation Services Coordinator. "I also find that organ donation is good for the families that are donating. In the midst of tragedy, it brings peace, and it brings hope and it brings light in the midst of that tragedy as they offer the gift of life to someone else."

Organ, tissue, and eye can all be donated in Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota. 1.8 million people are registered donors in Iowa. More than 836,000 people are registered in Nebraska, and in South Dakota, more than 462,000 people are registered donors.

There is no age limit to donate in all three Siouxland States.

You can register in Iowa here.

You can register in South Dakota here.

You can register in Nebraska here.

Michaela Feldmann

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