Firefighter/Paramedic continues to help others in death

Justin Spieker
Justin Spieker, a Southlake, Texas, firefighter and paramedic, continued to help others after his death through eye, tissue, and organ donations.

Donor: Justin James Spieker; written by his father, John Spieker

Justin was a Paramedic/Fireman on the Southlake, Texas, Fire Department. He was a very physically strong and charismatic person with a fun loving attitude. I remember that kids, especially, were drawn to Justin. He just had an approachable personality. He was able to joke and kid around with people and take the ribbing as well. He loved life even after much adversity he had to endure already in his young life. And Justin had found his passion in life – helping people!

Justin wanted to make sure he was the best he could possibly be in an effort to save people. Justin’s strength was honed over time. He spent all his free time, when he was not working 24-hour shifts or studying, on a stringent workout program. He would go to the gym two to four times a day. Justin could squat nearly 400 pounds. What is interesting is he was only 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighed 165 pounds.

Mental preparation was just as important to Justin as the physical. He studied constantly not only in preparation for his national paramedic certification (which he passed) but also because he understood the more he knew, the more he was able to minimize the time a patient was either in pain or their life was in danger. Justin wanted to be able to go anywhere and assist in any type of disaster.

Justin was a humble guy who did not need recognition. Case in point, he and his shift had received a call from the dispatcher about a drowned 3-year-old boy. That shift was credited with reviving and saving the boy’s life. Well, this made the local paper. After he sent the article to me, I called to tell him how proud I was of him and his shift for saving the boy’s life. When I asked him what part he played in saving his life, he said, “What do you mean Dad?” I told him that I was aware that everyone had specific tasks they do, like administer CPR, medications, oxygen, etc. He told me, “Dad, we work as a team, we don’t do things individually.”

Fast forward to Justin’s funeral – Kathy and I were told by one of the lieutenants on that specific run Justin was indeed the person in charge, directing everyone what to do and when. In his mind Justin was just part of the team. One of the lieutenants said if they could have only cloned Justin they would not have needed many more firemen. He was a true team player yet he also knew how to lead.

His family, cousins, and friends love Justin and he is truly missed! He was an inspiration to us all. He was good at challenging people and bringing out their best. Justin had such an impact on his friends that one of his best friends, who had a baby boy, named his middle name Justin. Another was so inspired by Justin’s dedication to following his dream of being a fireman that he followed his of being a Navy SEAL.

Hopefully you have no idea what it feels like to go through what we have gone through, nor would we want you to. The death of a child is the most excruciatingly painful experience anyone could possibly go through. It matters not how many months or years that that loved one is part of your life, it is all the past memories and future hopes and dreams that are now gone! The pain will never pass. We remember him every day and he still lives on in our memories.

Justin left a legacy of helping people not only because of his work as a paramedic and fireman but also because of his decision to register as an eye, tissue, and organ donor. After his death we were approached to facilitate the donation process. “YES!” we said, since it was his desire to continue to help others anyway he could. I don’t think he would have expected his donation would have reached so many people.

Justin was able to help people through two corneas for transplants, 12 skin allografts for burn patients, two heart valves used for life-saving surgeries to replace damaged valves, and 147 musculoskeletal allografts which are used in a variety of orthopaedic and neurologic surgeries, such as knee reconstruction and spinal fusions.

Two weeks after his death, Kathy and I had received a letter from UT Southwestern Medical Center Transplant Services Center stating Justin’s corneas had restored sight to two different recipients, both in their 30s. Even though it was bittersweet, it was very comforting to know that Justin was still helping others even after he had left this earth. After all, this was who Justin was, making a difference in people’s lives.

Just recently, we received another letter from Transplant Services Center. It said one of the recipients of Justin’s donations had written a letter thanking us for such a wonderful gift. It was the most difficult, yet beautiful, letter we could have received. I cried and had goose bumps as I read it. I sent a note back to our contact saying, "Susan, with tears in my eyes, I am sending you this note of thanks. You couldn't possibly know how much this means to us, nor would I want you to."

People say that with possessions and money, you can't take it with you. Well, neither can we take our corneas, bones, skin, heart valves, or organs. What a wonderful gift to give to another human being: a second chance at sight, walking, breathing, and of course life itself. We are all on this earth for a limited period of time. Why not leave a lasting positive impression – register to be an organ, tissue, and eye donor.

Justin continues to be missed. We have no doubt in our minds that he is in heaven with our Lord. I also am sure that he is looking down upon us drinking his favorite beer, Oberon, and asking all of us to register to be donors.

He really did love his Oberon beer.