Katherine Heigl Encourages Fans to Become Organ Donors on 35th Anniversary of Brother's Death

Katherine Heigl's brother Jason died at age 15 in 1986 following a car accident

Katherine Heigl
Katherine Heigl. Photo: Michael Tran/FilmMagic

Katherine Heigl is encouraging fans to become organ donors like her late brother Jason, who died at age 15 in 1986 following a car accident.

The Grey's Anatomy alum, 42, marked the 35th anniversary of her brother's death on Thursday by sharing a heartfelt tribute on her Instagram.

Alongside a photo of her sibling taken when he was "about 12 or 13," Heigl wrote, "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."

She continued, "I don't often talk about him. 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."

Katherine Heigl
Katherine Heigl/instagram

Heigl went on to quote her mother, Nancy, writing in the caption, "'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.' "

According to Heigl, her parents "made the decision they knew their son would have wanted made on his behalf" by donating Jason's eyes, heart and lungs to those in need.

"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," the actress wrote.

"My mother always says it was not the easy thing to do but it was the right thing to do. 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 added. "Death is inevitable. Tragedies happen. But none of us are in this alone. At least that's what Jason taught me."

katherine heigl
Katherine Heigl. NBC/Getty

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Heigl was only 7 years old when her brother died.

Alongside her mother, the Firefly Lane star founded the Jason Debus Heigl Foundation — a non-profit organization dedicated to animal welfare — in her brother's honor in 2008.

In an interview with The Sunday Times published in the same year, Heigl said that, for a long time, Jason's death "made me afraid of being too happy because things happen so unexpectedly."

"Your world can change and every aspect of your life is different," she said.

"[His death] made me afraid when good things happen. It made me brace against it that little bit," Heigl explained at the time. "I'm trying hard not to do that any more. It doesn't make something terrible easier — and I don't want to waste my happiness."

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