Carlotta Williams was enjoying New Year’s Day with her children at her Franklin, Texas, home earlier this year when she received tragic news. About 30 miles away, in Bryan, her husband Brandon Baker had suffered an aneurysm while chopping wood with his friends that afternoon.
“I told his friends to get him to the hospital and I took off. I was in shock. I could not believe this was happening,” she said, recalling the drive to the facility. “I was numb, I was trying to wrap my head around everything. I was just in disbelief.”
Baker went into surgery that evening and, before the night ended, the father of six was in a coma. He was soon declared brain-dead and passed away the next day.
“He survived the surgery but never woke up from the coma,” Williams, 59, tells PEOPLE. ” I didn’t know how I would explain this to our boys, that was the hardest part. I had to let them know that their dad was brain-dead and he got his wings and was going to heaven.”
As she spoke with the younger children (all six range in age from 12 to 39) Williams says, the family was determined to turn the tragedy into a triumph.
“I asked the kids what they thought about [Baker] being an organ donor and helping other people,” she tells PEOPLE. “They told me, they said, ‘Daddy always wanted to help people. This could be the last thing he gets to do, to help someone.’ ”
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So, the family turned to Taylor’s Gift, a nonprofit organization that promotes organ donation and supports families with their immediate needs. Through organ donation, Baker was able to save three lives.
“One person got his heart, and that person is a very lucky person because Brandon had a heart of gold,” Williams says. “He loved like no one else could ever love. Another got his liver and one of his kidneys and the third got his other kidney.”
Now, along with increasing awareness of the importance of organ donation, Taylor’s Gift helps organ donor families through their Legacy Gift Program —which helps assist with funeral costs and other expenses a grieving family may have.
“Taylor’s Gift stayed in contact with us,” Williams tells PEOPLE. “They’d check on us on a regular basis. And they helped cover the funeral expenses. They’re just awesome people.”
Todd and Tara Storch, who founded the organization, know the pain of loss — and the organ donation process — all too well. The parents started Taylor’s Gift in honor of their late daughter, naming the organization after the 13-year-old. In March 2010, Taylor Storch died while on a family ski trip. On the last ski run of the day, the teen lost control and hit a tree.
As the family struggled to come to terms with the death, they donated Taylor’s organs and saved five lives.
“Taylor’s Gift is the purpose that has come out of a heck of a lot of pain,” Tara tells PEOPLE of the Texas-based organization.
“When you’re in the throes of grief, it’s hard to find the good. And we’ve found the good through organ donation because Taylor saved and improved the lives of five people. It was a beautiful gift and something that brought us so much hope.”
Now, along with helping families through the organ donation process, the organization features the Legacy Gift Program — which helps cover funeral costs and other expenses a grieving family may have.
But, overall, the Storch family’s message is simply: “Outlive yourself.”
“For them to lose their young daughter and turn this around to help so many people, that’s a blessing,” Williams says of the family. “We know our Brandon is out there with somebody. What is a greater gift than to give a piece of yourself to somebody else so they can have an awesome life too?”