A Gift from the Heart

By Leeanne Seaver

Jeremy Smith as a freshman football player for VHS.

When an auto accident took 15-year-old Jeremy Smith’s life in 2001, parents Troy and Phyllis might never have imagined a time when they could speak of the good things that came of such a tragedy.

Jeremy, who had just begun his freshman year at Vicksburg High School when he lost his life, went on to save the lives of many others thanks to the donation of his organs through the Gift of Life Program.

“We donated all of his major organs, soft tissue — and even his spine was used to help newborns with spina bifida,” Phyllis said. “Some of his veins were frozen for people having heart bypass surgery. I figured maybe a dozen people had been helped, but the people at Gift of Life told us it was more like ten times that number.”

Some of those recipients reached out to the Smith’s through the Gift of Life communication channels to express their profound gratitude. Chief among them was Elbert Lekity of Brownstown, Michigan, who is alive today because of Jeremy’s heart. He and the woman who received one of Jeremy’s lungs (who has since passed on) wanted to meet the Smiths personally. All agreed to have lunch in Jackson.

The connection forged a strong bond that brought healing for Phyllis and Troy. “We still meet about four or five times a year. We talk about life,” Phyllis said. Knowing these recipients personally helped Phyllis cope with the loss of her son—and then that of her husband.

Elbert Lekity, the recipient of Smith’s heart, and his wife Diane.

“Just after Troy died, Elbert gave me a list of all the things he could do because he was still alive, including walking his daughter down the aisle at her wedding, experiencing his grandchildren as they came, and seeing his son retire from the military. That family is just phenomenal. They are such wonderful people!”

The Smiths added contributions from family, friends, their church, and community members to funds from Jeremy’s life insurance policy to create the Jeremy Smith Scholarship in 2005, the year he would have graduated. It continues to be managed by the Vicksburg Community Schools Foundation.

The award is given to each year to a senior applicant who needs a little extra help but shows strong character, a good work ethic, and has kept up decent grades, a B average. Like Jeremy, these are kids who are doing ok but might just fall through the cracks, Phyllis explained. They deserve a boost.

Elbert Lekity and his wife Diane decided to help with that, so Jeremy’s scholarship fund recently grew bigger. “Our friendship and get-togethers warm my heart,” Elbert said.

“Phyllis continues to care for us and many others. For our 50th wedding anniversary gift, she spent many, many hours creating a commemorative quilt adorned with photos from our babyhood through our anniversary, which is now a cherished part of our lives.” The Lekitys wanted to show their deep appreciation for everything the Smiths have made possible for their own family, so they made a generous contribution to the Vicksburg Schools Foundation earmarked for the Jeremy Smith Scholarship. “We would like to share our passion for keeping Jeremy’s memory alive by making a donation” in support of Jeremy’s memory and life-affirming legacy.

In the last four years, the Jeremy Smith Scholarship has been awarded to Quintin Haring (’14); Michael Pierluissi (’13); Connor McCormick (’12); and Alex Manchester (’11).

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