Donation of son's organs allows teen to live on, mother says

Friday, Oct. 16, 2020
Donation of son's organs allows teen to live on, mother says + Enlarge
Teri and Tom Paskvan tend to a memorial stone in their backyard presented to them last year after the death of their son Jacob.
By Linda Petersen
Intermountain Catholic

STANSBURY Park – To everyone who knew him, 14-year-old Jacob Paskvan was a happy teen. A freshman at Stansbury High School and popular among his peers, a member of two hockey teams – Utah Junior Grizzlies and the Tooele County Outlaws – he had several good friends and a girlfriend. He was the youngest child of Teri and Tom Paskvan, and got along well with his two older sisters.

“He was that kid that everyone just loved,” said his mother, Teri. “He was the sweetest soul. He could never hurt anybody or be mean to anybody. He would see something, and he would give. He would be that friend for someone who needed it. He was just a very kind soul.”

Jacob regularly attended Mass with his mother at St. Marguerite Catholic Church, where he had made his First Communion and received the Sacrament of Confirmation.

“He was a full, active member of the Church,” Teri said. “He was a good example of what you’d want a youth in the Catholic Church to be.”

Just before Easter last year, Jacob was making plans for the summer job Teri had set up for him at the company where she worked. He also was training for hockey tryouts. Those preparations ended abruptly on Good Friday, April 19, when Jacob unexpectedly took his own life while both of his parents were at work.

There were no warning signs. Like many teens, Jacob could get sad from time to time, but he usually talked things through with his parents, they said. His father Tom, an operating room nurse, has been trained to watch for the signs a person might be considering suicide. Jacob showed none of these, Tom said.

“I know all the signs,” Tom said. “He wasn’t giving anything away; he wasn’t sitting in his room. He was training every day for hockey tryouts; he had a girlfriend; he was doing well in school. He was all excited for summer.”

Jacob didn’t seem depressed in the days and hours leading up to his suicide, his parents said. That afternoon he had finished his homework and left it on the kitchen table, completed the yardwork his parents had asked him to do and called his mother to ask if one of his friends could come over. He didn’t leave a note. All of which leaves his parents mystified as to why Jacob chose to take his life that day.

Jacob’s death has left his parents and two older sisters anguished and filled with questions for which there are few answers.

“He was the all-star American child; he was a good kid,” Teri said. “You wouldn’t have thought it was him that would do it.”

In the early days after Jacob’s death, among the many questions going through Teri’s mind was the state of her son’s soul.

“As a good Catholic, you struggle about suicide,” she said. “We grew up learning how that’s a sin.”

Father Ken Vialpando, who had been the family’s pastor for three years and now is the diocesan Vicar for Clergy, provided great comfort at that time, Teri said.

“We were so blessed we had Fr. Ken,” she said. “He immediately just came in and comforted us and set our minds at ease about that Jesus knew what Jacob was feeling at that moment, that he wasn’t in the right mindset, that he would be taken to heaven.”

After Jacob’s death, the parish, the families of his hockey teams and the Tooele community rallied around the Paskvans. As an example, the local ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints put on the funeral luncheon.

“They just were a godsend to us; it seemed like it brought both our faiths together,” Teri said. “Half of people at the funeral were LDS. I thought it was a good showing of how people just came together.”

In the hours following his death, Jacob’s parents decided to donate his organs to provide life and hope to others. It was, they said, a natural decision: Jacob had always said it made sense to him.

About a year after Jacob’s death, the Paskvans received a letter telling them that, through Jacob’s donation, 26 people had received organs.

“He always wanted to help people and I think that just showed another legacy of him wanting to help people,” Teri said. “It gives us comfort to know he is living still; I just want him to be remembered. He’s living in these 26 other people. He was a miracle to us; him providing that miracle to all those other families provides some comfort.”

In an interview for this article, Fr. Vialpando explained that “Romans 8:28 says that all things work together for good. God did not plan Jacob’s death or cause it, but for some reason or another, it was allowed, and therefore God was able to take this ‘stumbling block’ of Jacob’s death and turn it into a ‘stepping stone’ where 26 other people who were the recipients of Jacob’s organs could have life.  That is a miracle!”

Going back to church, where there were so many reminders of Jacob, was hard for Teri.

“I cried through Mass every time,” she said. “It tested my faith, but I feel that it strengthened my faith. I feel like ever since then I pray every day.”

Through their months of grieving, the Paskvans have learned that suicide can happen in any family.

“We are a good family with good kids; we raised them well in the faith,” Teri said. “He was blessed, and it still happened.”

The experience has caused them to draw their daughters closer and to make time for family even more of a priority than it was before.

“I think life is really hard for kids right now, with social media. Just keep an eye on your kids,” Tom advised other parents. “You just never know, is the thing. Especially at that age, they’re so impulsive; their hormones are all over the place, and then the pressures of social media, you just don’t know.”

Two days before Jacob died, he asked Tom if they could go mountain biking, but his father told him he had too much to do that day.

“I’ll never let myself forget that; what’s more important?” Tom said. “That’s something I’ll never get over; he probably needed it that day.”

In the months since Jacob’s death, the Paskvans have also been trying to find ways to honor their son and keep his memory alive, including providing ski clothing for underprivileged children and helping the Knights of Columbus raise funds for defibrillators.

“We’ve been trying to do silent things to honor Jacob; to have a positive effect on other people’s lives to honor him; to try and find the good in this bad,” Teri said.

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