ORANGE PARK – Clay County Sheriff deputy Ben Zirbel died on Aug. 21 from injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident. But his heart is very much alive. So are his kidneys, liver and left …
ORANGE PARK – Clay County Sheriff deputy Ben Zirbel died on Aug. 21 from injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident. But his heart is very much alive. So are his kidneys, liver and left lung.
His widow, Anna, said she finds some solace in knowing her husband was an organ donor. She’s also comforted by the fact she didn’t have to make the difficult decision in the hours following his crash.
“Fortunately, Ben had already made that decision for us by choosing to become an organ donor years ago,” she said after returning to Orange Park Medical Center last week to kick off National Donate Life Month.
Anna Zirbel joined physicians at the hospital to urge people to register in advance – and to make that decision known to others.
“What helps more than anything else is that they know what people want,” said Dr. Miren Schinco, OPMC trauma surgeon and Trauma Medical Director. “They don’t have to make that decision. It’s already been made.
“There’s a recent poll that shows 95 percent of Americans were in favor of organ donations, but only 58 percent were registered donors. I would like to challenge the people of Clay County to raise that number so we can create more miracles.
“Even with all our advancements, 20 people die every day [in the U.S.] waiting for a transplant.”
The miracles that followed Zirbel’s affected five local people.
“Ben died on Aug. 21. The next day, his organs were recovered for donations,” Anna said. “Ben was a very giving person. He dedicated his life to helping others. Doctors were able to help five other people because of his donations.
“A 70-year-old man received Ben’s heart. A 56-year-old woman and a 52-year-old woman each received one of Ben’s kidneys. A 57-year-old man received his liver, and a 71-year-old man received his left lung. Because Ben decided to become an organ donor, these five people were all given a chance for a better quality of life.
“Organ donations is a selfless act. It’s one of the last gifts you can give to the world.”
There currently are 5,320 people on organ transplant lists in Florida, the hospital said. Last year, 1,007 donors helped create 2,471 transplants across the state.
At Orange Park, there were eight organ donors, including Zirbel, a year ago, and those donations saved 24 lives.
OPMC then gave Anna $2,000 to help offset expenses when she visits the National Police Memorial Wall at Washington, D.C., next month to see her husband’s name etched into the monument.
Recently, the sheriff’s department joined other local organizations with a fundraising ride to raise $30,000 so the county can send its traffic unit as an escort.
Zirbel was riding his motorcycle southbound on Blanding Boulevard while on patrol on Aug. 19 when a pickup truck, driven by Stephen Schioppa of Orange Park, towing a trailer with lawn maintenance turned in front of him at Camp Francis Johnson Road. Zirbel hit the trailer and was thrown onto the roadway.