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Iowa girl's legacy of light, love carries on through organ donations

"The pain never goes away. But knowing that, you know, she's changed lives, she's healed lives. Things like that really help us," said Heather Moorman, Suzie's mom.

WAYNE COUNTY, Iowa — The sunlight of their world — that's the way Heather and Mark Moorman describe their daughter Suzie.

"She brings, it's like sunshine. I mean, how would you describe it? She would just bring sunshine into a room," Heather said.

A week before Suzie's bright spirit entered the world, the couple was told her light wouldn't shine for long.

"We didn't know if she would survive the birthing process at all, because they did not think that she had a brain at all," Heather said.

Suzie beat those odds, but she was diagnosed with hydrocephalus, a neurological disorder causing a build up of fluid in her brain.

The excess fluid causes pressure on the brain and risks crushing it. 

It was a grim outlook, and Suzie's parents needed time to process it all.

With her short future in mind, they didn't want to waste a moment of the time spent with her.

"We looked at each other and we decided we weren't going to just watch Suzie die," Heather said. "We were going to fight for every little breath she took."

And that initially grim outlook turned optimistic: Suzie's light ended up shining for 16 years.

During that time, she was a champion and advocate with the Iowa Special Olympics. She was a sister to two and a friend to many. 

But a few days after her 16th birthday, the unthinkable happened.

"She was declared gone. I don't like to say any other words ... We spent so much quality time with her, and I always said that we were just walking her home to heaven," Heather said.

Suzie's story didn't stop there.

The Moorman's decided to donate Suzie's organs. Through the donations, Suzie's light continued shining, ultimately saving the lives of four people.

Larry Burkholder is one of those recipients. 

He said, after the kidney transplant surgery, he wanted to know who saved his life. Then, Larry got a letter from Suzie's parents detailing her story.

 "I can't read this without getting emotional," he said.

One letter became two and, eventually, their correspondence blossomed into a beautiful connection.

"I think the donor's family thinks that there's a lot of intertwining of her family, my family and in God in the middle," Burkholder said. 

Heather said the ripple effects of Suzie's gifts helps heal the entire Moorman family.

"The pain never goes away. But knowing that, you know, she's changed lives, she's healed lives. Things like that really help us," she said.

This year, Suzie would have graduated high school. Her school and church both held celebrations in her honor

Suzie's parents as well as Larry Burkholder encourage anyone to consider organ donation. For more information about registering in Iowa, click here.

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