In death, Whatcom County boy who donated organs lives on in others

Jaden Griffin loved playing Minecraft and Halo. He loved gardening and nature, Iron Man and the Avengers.

He wanted to be a firefighter when he grew up so he could help people and save lives.

Jaden, 7, didn’t get the chance to grow up. He died May 15 after slipping and falling about 30 feet down Whatcom Falls during a family outing to Whatcom Falls Park in Bellingham.

But in death, he gave life to others when his organs were donated to two people.

“He was still able to give the gift of life and make a difference in his last final way because of his organ donation,” said Jaden’s father, Dustin, now living in Ferndale. “That’s what he would have wanted.”

Jaden will be among those honored Thursday, April 16, when Gov. Jay Inslee dedicates the Gift of Life Award to 137 people in Washington state who donated their organs, eyes and tissue last year. In doing so, they helped more than 400 other people, according to event organizer LifeCenter Northwest.

The donors are being honored during Donate Life Month, a national initiative to thank donors and their families, to celebrate a chance at life for the recipients, and to raise awareness of the importance of tissue, organ and eye donation.

There are more than 123,000 people on the transplant waiting list in the U.S., according to LifeCenter Northwest. Nearly 3,000 of those who need a life-saving transplant live in Alaska, north Idaho, Montana and Washington state.

Jaden’s family — dad Dustin, mom Mai Chi, and two siblings — will be in Olympia for the Thursday ceremony.

The Griffins had lived in Bellingham for about a month, having just moved from their home north of San Diego, when the accident occurred.

A fire department in San Diego commemorated Jaden with a helmet since he wanted to become a firefighter, according to his dad.

Jaden was sweet and caring, his father said, an energetic boy who could cheer up others having a bad day.

“He would make you realize what was important,” Dustin, 34, said. “We were very lucky to have him.”

Mai Chi, 35, said her son had a contagious laugh and a smile that lit up the room.

“Even in death, he lives on,” she said.

When Dustin was 14 years old, his mother died. She donated parts of her eye to help someone else see again, he said, and that stayed with him through the years.

When the Griffins were approached about Jaden being an organ donor, and even in the midst of their own grief, they found themselves wondering what if another child was waiting for an organ.

“We just never know how we all can make a difference in each other’s lives,” Dustin said.

“Organ donation was one of the ways we were able to make a difference,” he added, “to make whatever small shred of light out of the darkness we were going through.”