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Ickey Woods son's death brought life to others

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Sunday morning, as she has for years, Chandra Baldwin-Woods will attend an Easter service at Crossroads church in Oakley.

She will pray and sing Easter songs. Her favorite is one from an old Baptist hymnal, "I Gave My Life for Thee." She will look forward to spending the afternoon with her children and grandchildren.

They'll dye hard-boiled eggs, hide them in the yard and watch the little ones scurry about hunting for them. She'll prepare the traditional family dinner of ham, sweet potatoes, macaroni and cheese, greens and cornbread.

There will be layers of comfort in the familiarity and ritual of things, yet there will be something new and more powerful today than any of her previous Easter celebrations.

On the day Christians worldwide celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and the promise of eternal life, Baldwin-Woods will have a profound understanding of that possibility - borne out of her own loss.

There really can be life after death.

Sunday marks her first Easter since the August death of her 16-year-old son, Jovante Woods. He had signed up as an organ and tissue donor on his temporary driver's license without the knowledge of his parents - Chandra and former Bengals star Elbert "Ickey" Woods. The Princeton High School junior, an honor student and football standout, died after suffering an asthma attack at home.

Baldwin-Woods grieves his loss without cessation but finds peace and comfort in the lives saved or improved by Jovante's donation.

His heart beats in the chest of Michigan man.

His liver replaced that of an 8-month-old Ohio girl whose own was damaged by tumors.

His right kidney went to a 6-year-old Ohio boy.

A 48-year-old year Ohio man, a social worker who suffered from diabetes since age 12, now has Jovante's left kidney and pancreas, and he left the hospital with normal blood sugar and improved kidney function.

Jovante's right lung (his left lung was unusable) was recovered for research into diseases such as asthma.

His bone and soft tissues have helped cancer patients regain use of limbs.

His corneas went to the Cincinnati Eye Bank.

Indeed, there is life after death.

"What happened with Jovante, and knowing the people his gift helped, has helped me better understand the idea of Jesus' resurrection," Baldwin-Woods said. "It has made everything about Easter more tangible."

For emphasis, she rapped her knuckles on a cafeteria table at Woodward High School. Easter is less abstract now, a daily reality no longer confined to spiritual trust.

She was at Woodward to support the youngest of her six children, 14-year-old son Aubrhee Woods. He sat at another table during a health and wellness fair on April 16, his mother's 46th birthday. Aubrhee and three other teens - volunteers with the new Jovante Woods Foundation - were there that afternoon to promote organ donation and asthma awareness.

"It helps me get up every morning to know that Jovante saved a baby and so many other people," Baldwin-Woods said. "It helps to know that other families aren't suffering the same loss of a loved one like we did."

[b]Death has wide impact[/b]
Jovante's gift and the efforts of his mother and father are affecting more than the lives of the people who received their son's organs and tissues.

"I know that you were very proud of your son and his many achievements in life, and it seems he continues to achieve by helping so many who depend on such a rare gift," Chera Schweitzer, family services coordinator at LifeCenter, wrote Baldwin-Woods on Sept. 29. LifeCenter is the local nonprofit that coordinates human organ donation and transplant.

The large family - Jovante was the fifth of their six children, and they have four grandchildren - struggled with Ickey and Chandra's divorce. Yet Jovante's death and the positive energy created by his organ donation have brought the family back together. They don't take each other for granted and don't let petty issues get too big, they say.

Because Jovante was a minor, his parents could have overridden his desire to donate. They chose to honor his wish, and the unselfish act of a 16-year-old student captured the attention of a small but growing group of his peers, other students from other schools who either knew the family or were touched by the story.

"I feel honored. I am happy, glad and kind of overwhelmed that the kids decided to come together and honor (Jovante) and do something so positive like promote donation," Ickey Woods said.

Kayla Hensley, 16, a Milford High School sophomore, is the daughter of Rocky Hensley, a friend of Ickey Woods.

"I just wanted to do something positive," Kayla said.

So did some 15 other students from Madeira High School, Mount Notre Dame, Princeton and East and West Lakota. They've formed a group called LEAD (Life, Education, Asthma and Donation) and are part of the Jovante Woods Foundation. They've held meetingsand learned about organ donation and the ravages of asthma - which afflicts 1 in 10 Americans and 1 in 6 people in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.

The mortality rate for people with asthma under age 19 has increased 80 percent since 1980.

[b]Honoring brother[/b]
Students spread stacks of pamphlets and fact sheets and a pile of green, plastic "donate life" bracelets on the cafeteria table.

For Aubrhee Woods, volunteering to encourage organ donation is a way to honor his brother's memory and thank him.

"Jovante always did what he had to do to make sure I was OK," said Aubrhee, like Jovante, a football player. "He thought of me first. He cooked. If I needed clothes washed, he did that. He ironed."

The brothers never discussed organ donation, though Aubrhee said he remembers seeing it listed when Jovante showed him his temps. Aubrhee will follow his brother's example and become a donor, too.

Other students involved in the foundation are inspired by Jovante's selfless act.

Jessie Burke, 17, who goes to Lakota West, said she had signed up as a donor when she got her license last year.

"You never hear about kids dying, but it does happen," she said. "It is just so cool how the family took something so tragic and made something good out of it. I wanted to be a part of it."

Christian Smith, 18, who also attends Lakota West, said it's rare to find a teenager as unselfish as Jovante in life and in death. He is a donor and tries to convince classmates and friends to do the same. His pitch:

"More than 100,000 people are on the waiting list for an organ transplant. A lot of them (18 a day) die waiting. If you or someone you loved needed an organ transplant to live, wouldn't you hope somebody decided to donate?"

Over the course of three hours, the foundation volunteers handed out about a dozen packets. They don't know how many will actually decide to sign up.

Toward the end of the fair, a woman came by the table. The students each stood to greet her. Kimyatta King, 38, of Silverton, ended up taking a donor sheet and told them she would sign up.

"I have one son, and it's wonderful what this family has done," King said. "I want to help if I can."

Chandra Baldwin-Woods walked around the table to introduce herself.

"I'm Jovante's mother," she said. "Thank you for doing this."

The two women, total strangers, shared a hug.

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