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Katherine Heigl shares touching tribute to brother on 35th anniversary of his death

Heigl's older brother died following a car accident, a week before he would've turned 16.
/ Source: TODAY

Katherine Heigl commemorated the 35th anniversary of the death of her brother with a moving tribute to him Thursday.

“This is my brother Jason. He was about 12 or 13 in this picture,” she wrote in an Instagram photo post. “Jason was in a car accident September 23rd 1986 and was in the ICU on life support for a week. He was taken off life support 35 years ago today. One week before his 16th birthday.”

The former “Grey’s Anatomy” star said that she tends not to speak about her older brother or his death but felt compelled to do so this week.

“I don’t often talk about him,” she wrote. “Or this day. Or the weeks and months and years that followed but my mother wrote an email to a friend this morning that she shared with me and I thought…well that I’d like to share her words because what she has to say is important. Not only for my family but for anyone out there who has lost someone they love too soon.”

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She then quoted her mother Nancy Heigl’s email. “@nancyheigl ‘Actually, today is the day that he died in 1986. All day today, various helicopters flew into Norwalk Hospital in CT, bringing surgeons from other hospitals and early this evening they took him into surgery and removed his organs for donations. Sorry, just on my mind today and probably sharing too much.’”

Heigl said her mother and father then chose to donate Jason’s organs.

“My parents made the decision they knew their son would have wanted made on his behalf,” she wrote. “They donated his eyes. His heart. His lungs. They donated what they could because they not only knew it was what Jason would have wanted but because they did not want anyone else to suffer what they now would have to if they could prevent it. My mother always says it was not the easy thing to do but it was the right thing to do.”

Heigl finished her post by urging people to follow her parents’ lead and be organ donors.

“Today. On the anniversary of Jason’s death. I implore us all to do not the easy thing but the right thing and become an organ donor,” she wrote. “Death is inevitable. Tragedies happen. But none of us are in this alone. At least that’s what Jason taught me.”

In addition to organ donation, the Heigl family kept the memory of Jason alive with the Jason Debus Heigl Foundation, which the actor and her mother started in 2008 to help end animal cruelty.

“The Heigls’ desire to end animal cruelty and abuse inspired them to create an organization dedicated to animal welfare that would celebrate the compassion, kindness and memory of a beloved son and brother,” the organization writes on its website.

“Throughout his brief lifetime, Jason loved all animals, especially dogs, cats and monkeys, and he lived his life extending compassion and kindness to all creatures great and small.”