ADAMS COUNTY, Pa. (WHTM) — Turns out there’s a far more difficult decision about donating organs than the one many of us make when we get or renew a driver’s license.
“What I thought about organ donation was not what I learned,” said Nicole Rohrbaugh — who now knows more than any parent ever wants to know, following the death of her son, Andrew Karabinos, 17, after a one-car accident in Straban Township. “I thought that, you know, you’re taken off the vent, and pretty much everything is donated — your heart and everything they could take.”
The reality is a little more complicated and, Rohrbaugh said, can impact the decision of when to take someone off life support.
“I learned that you had to be brain dead in order to” donate key organs, Rohrbaugh said. And even though doctors concluded Andrew had no hope of recovering, “he would never go brain dead because his stem was attached.”
In order for him to donate organs, she had to decide to allow doctors to remove the ventilator — and he had to die within 90 minutes. Beyond that, his organs wouldn’t be healthy enough to help someone else.
She made that decision, and sure enough, he died far less than 90 minutes later.
“They said 11 minutes, but I felt his heart stop within like a couple of minutes,” Rohrbaugh said. “I was holding my hand on his heart, and I could feel it beating, and then I didn’t feel it anymore. So — I think they just gave us the time.”
Rohrbaugh held out hope but prepared for the worst when two state troopers showed up at her door the night of the accident, informing her Karabinos had been airlifted to the hospital. She drove there.
There were hopeful moments. But “then the neurosurgeon came out and said that he had a severe blunt force trauma to his brain and that … he couldn’t guarantee that he was going to live. So he needed to know what I wanted to do,” Rohrbaugh said.
Her answer: fight to save him as long as he had a chance, but only that long.
Karabinos was a volunteer firefighter with Northeast Adams Fire & EMS in East Berlin and was studying for the ASVAB test on his way to becoming a U.S. Marine. He had been studying with friends the night of the accident, Rohrbaugh said.
“If he would have met you, he would probably talk your ear off,” she said. “Like, he was just — just the most lovable kid and most respectful kid…. Even if he only had a dollar, if [someone] needed a dollar, he would give it. Like, he was the most giving person in the world.”
Now he has given — for starters — his liver and a kidney to a man in New York, Rohrbaugh said, with far more to come — “I haven’t gotten the list yet of everything he donated,” she said.
For all the painful decisions she has made in recent days, the initial decision to donate his organs — made by Karabinos himself — was far easier.
“When Andrew got his license, I asked him if he wanted to be an organ donor, because I was one,” Rohrbaugh said. “If I’m dead, I don’t need my body. So let it go to somebody who can use it. Because there are people out there that wait years and years on donation lists.”
“He wanted to be like me,” Rohrbaugh said.
A GoFundMe in Andrew’s honor has raised more than $15,000 to help cover medical and upcoming expenses.