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Family of boy killed by alligator hopes to save lives through pediatric organ donation

The family of Lane Graves, a 2-year-old who was killed by an alligator at a Disney resort in 2016, is helping others through a foundation highlighting pediatric organ donation.
/ Source: TODAY

The memory of a 2-year-old boy tragically killed by an alligator at a Disney resort has been the inspiration behind his family's drive to bring attention to the life-saving cause of pediatric organ donation.

The Lane Thomas Foundation, named in memory of Lane Thomas Graves, has helped 93 families with children undergoing transplants since its founding in 2016 in the wake of the boy's death.

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Founded by his parents, Matt and Melissa Graves of Omaha, Nebraska, the organization is now conducting a Keep Love Alive campaign to help families consider donating their child's organs. Nearly 2,000 children are waiting for an organ transplant, 25% of them under 6 years old, according to the foundation.

"The vision of the foundation is that no child dies waiting for an organ," Matt Graves says in a public service announcement for the campaign.

The foundation has brought light to other families in the wake of the darkness the Graves family suffered when Lane was killed on June 14, 2016, when an alligator snatched him at the shoreline of Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa. The alligator dragged him into the nearby lagoon as his father tried desperately to free him. His body was recovered a day later.

Lane remains a constant presence at the family's Nebraska home, where his siblings, Ella, 9, and Christian, 2, who was born two years after Lane's death, are reminded of his vibrant spirit. Disney World also unveiled a lighthouse sculpture in 2017 near the Seven Seas Lagoon beach. His parents believe the structure "stands as a beacon of hope and support for families in the depths of despair."

His memory has also been honored by parents like Lauressa Gillock, who chose to donate daughter Olivia's organs after Olivia died at 3 years old from an incurable brain tumor.

"I've always been an organ donor, but I didn't ever process making that decision for a child," Gillock told NBC's Kerry Sanders in an interview that aired on TODAY Thursday. "I knew I was going to lose her, and I knew we could help others. So I fought past my grief and we were able to do organ donation."

Olivia's organs dramatically changed the lives of five children, including KeVon Long. He was the beneficiary of Olivia's heart, which saved his life when he was 22 months old. Gillock was recently able to meet with KeVon and his mother, VonKeisha, to see the difference Olivia's heart made in their lives. The PSA by the Lane Thomas Foundation captured their conversation.

"She lives on through my son forever and always she will be a part of him," VonKeisha Long says.

"Olivia's touched more lives in her short time that she was here, than I'll ever," Gillock told Sanders in their interview. "But I'm going to keep trying to spread the word in her honor."

The decision to donate a child's organs can be emotionally wrenching in the moment, but Dr. Alan Langnas, who leads the transplant center at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, says it is a chance to turn a tragedy into hope for another family.

"It's the dark place that no parent ever wants to have to go to," he told Sanders. "It just takes an enormous amount of courage for these families to confront their current situation, the courage to think beyond themselves and how they can turn this terrible event in their personal lives into an opportunity for hope for people they don't even know.

"I think it gives them some sense of maybe there was some purpose to the short life, that their child had. Maybe there was some greater purpose to their child's life that was not apparent until that moment."

For those interested in finding out more about pediatric organ donation, rules vary by state, so contact local transplant hospitals for guidance and information.