Thankful for another decade of life, all made possible by organ donor

by Peter Jakey —Managing Editor

It was 11 Thanksgivings ago, Jim Bursey of Ocqueoc opened his heart and front door to talk about the late Brianne Hovey, a young woman whose life was cut short because of a brain aneurysm. 

Because Brianne became an organ donor, Jim was given a new lease on life after years of living with failing lungs. The double-lung transplant took place in 2009, and in the Thanksgiving edition of 2010, he expressed his emotional thanks to the young lady.

When he started to talk about Brianne, his voice changed and the tears started to flow. The young lady from Lawton was only 21. 

“I’m just thankful for her,” said Jim in the 2010 article. “I probably wouldn’t be here now.” 

Just short of the 12th anniversary of the transplant, Jim passed away at the age of 74.

Now, more than ever, the Bursey family can reflect back on how their lives were changed forever because of the decision of a brave young woman, who could not imagine losing her life, but still made the call to become a donor. 

Jim called Brianne his angel.

His daughters Heidi Davis and Renee Szymanski are strong advocates of organ donation, and in the time following their father’s successful transplant, the sisters hosted a drive in Presque Isle County to increase the number of donors and did just that.

It was another way for them to say thanks for all the extra holidays, birthdays and ballgames with the grandchildren, or getting to walk daughter Heidi down the aisle.

“The additional decade that God and Brianne gave us with our dad brings and indescribable amount of thankfulness,” said Heidi.

“To our family, organ donation is something we wholeheartedly feel so strongly about,” said Renee. “It changes lives each and every single day. It’s another way of giving back and helping others even when we aren’t here anymore.  

“To watch a loved one suffer is gut-wrenching, but when their health and life can be changed by a donor, it’s the most beautiful thing in the world.  The way I see it, the gift of life is a gift of love.” The family was given countless memories and moments.

“I’m not gonna lie,” said Heidi, “This is a very emotional topic for me. I could write an endless novel when it comes to my mom and dad and what organ donation has blessed our family with.” 

Jim’s wife Cheryl G. Bursey, who was there through the thick and thin of Jim’s health issues, passed away before him, Feb. 26, 2020.

“Our dad waited a grueling 570 days to reunite with our mom again,” said Heidi. “They truly belonged together.” She said their marriage was nothing short of a fairytale.

The family has a cherished moment with their father that happened a short time before he passed, Sept. 18. Jim had always wanted to restore an antique vehicle and was able to purchase a 1966 Rambler and drive it to his friend’s house a few miles down the road. 

“My sister and I teared up as we watched, laughed and hollered ‘dad, watch out for cars,’ ” said Renee. “He hadn’t felt well enough or had the strength in a few years to get behind the wheel. 

“Watching him that day, we realized how difficult it was for him to do that, and part of us knew he was taking care of that little bucket list he had, and we were truly on borrowed time with him.” 

The family drove the car to his funeral service, decorated it, and parked it in front of the Beck Funeral Home in Rogers City.

Anne Marie Hovey, Brianne’s mother, attended the funeral, although it was difficult for her because it was another link to her daughter that is now gone.

It was not until Anne Marie walked in for the memorial service, where a big picture of her daughter was on display, did it really hit her that she was part of the family. “It hit me like a ton of bricks, 100 percent,” said Anne Marie. 

Being a cancer survivor and going through arduous cancer treatment at the Mayo Clinic, she can relate to the Bursey family in their appreciation for the extended time. She has talked to people who have said they would want to go through with the treatment.

“Transplant can be equally painful and difficult,” said Anne Marie. “If someone gave you, or myself as a cancer survivor the opportunity to live another 10 years…I’ve got a 3-year-old granddaughter now and another on the way. If I had been someone who needed an organ transplant and did not get it, I would not be here for that.

“(The Bursey family) had those memories and time together; the grandchildren will have those memories; I can relate to that. I was given that second chance.”

The holidays will be different in every way for the Bursey children because losing a mother and a father in a short time is never easy. 

“Though we are all grieving and still in shock, we will each take the time in our own ways to reflect on the previous holidays and years that we were given and find thankfulness and blessings as we look at our children and appreciate each and every day,” said Renee. 

“Organ donation is more than a gift, it’s a godsend,” added Heidi. “For that, we are eternally grateful!!”