A family in Seymour suffered an incredible loss when their son died after a car wreck. Then they made a decision that touched four other families and helped them heal.
Dustin Kitts was the middle child in a family of five. David and Debra Kitts and their children Drew, Whitney and Dustin.
He was adventurous, loved hockey and working on cars with his dad.
"The only thing worse than losing him would have been not to have him," his mother Debra Kitts said.
Dustin was in a serious car wreck June 4, 2000. He suffered major brain damage. A few days later, his family gathered in a room at UT Medical Center where they heard about organ donation.
"Had us in a room, the quiet room we call it and they asked us about it. Debra and I both looked at each other and said 'Well, I'm not sure.' And Whitney spoke up and said he just talked about it. We need to do it. That was his honor. We didn't have no hesitation about it," his father David Kitts said.
"And Dustin had heard someone come to the high school, Billy come to the high school and talk. And he said 'Why wouldn't you do it?' He said 'I'm not going to need them where I am going so why wouldn't you do it?'" Debra said.
Billy is BillyJarvis. He is an organ recipient himself who works with Tennessee Donor Services.
"I think Dustin came and told Whitney, 'Hey, they came to our class and if anything ever happens that's what I want to do,'" he recalled.
Dustin's conversation with his sister was critical when his family faced that decision.
"If they don't know what their family wants. I always encourage people certainly sign up on the registry but after you make that decision talk to your family about it and make sure that your wishes are known," Jarvis said.
Even as her heart was aching, Debra understood what her 17-year-old son's gift would mean to another mother.
"When he was in ICU if someone had come up to me and said to me 'We have something and your son can live,' how would I feel? And although that didn't happen to Dustin because of his organ donation it happened to other families. Because I knew what pain this was I can only imagine the joy that they had whenever someone they thought wasn't going to be around much longer had another chance," she said.
Four people got another chance. He saved their lives. Then his parents became advocates for donation through their volunteer work. David even got a tattoo, as a conversation starter.
"I talk it and live it every day because I see what it can do for other families. It didn't help us but it did help them. And we're a family that likes to help other people," David said.
As part of their advocacy, the Kitts allowed Dustin's face to be used on billboards to promote organ donations. And Monday, his face will be on Donate Life's 2017 Rose Parade Float in the form of a floral portrait, called a florograph.
David and Debra and Billy will be in Pasadena for the parade.
"I can't wait to get to California to be a part of doing the flowers on the float. We get to spend four or five hours helping to put the flowers on," David said.
Helping is what the Kitts do. It's something they did nearly 17 years ago that saved other lives and helped their family heal.
"For families on the worst day of their lives to see through their own grief in a short period of time and give to other people it's amazing every time you see it," Billy said.
"It's changed my life a lot," David said. "I look at things a lot different. I know we're not guaranteed the next second so I do what I can for people and my family. They're first."
The Tournament of Roses Parade is usually on New Year's Day -- but this year January 1 falls on a Sunday. The parade will start at 11:00 a.m. Monday. You can watch it on WBIR Channel 10.
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