- Associated Press - Friday, September 18, 2015

CLAREMORE, Okla. (AP) - After Shawn Palmer was murdered last year, no one in his family could have imagined anything good about his death.

But they can now, The Wichita Eagle (http://bit.ly/1iknmxE ) reported.

The last thing Shawn did as he died was save the life of one of his closest friends.

___

A year before he died, Shawn moved in with his brother Jeremiah and Jeremiah’s wife, Sarah.

Jeremiah, 28, had just returned to Wichita after six years in the Air Force. Shawn, three years younger, had been discharged from the Army because of a cornea condition in his eyes.

They were more than brothers; they bonded, lifted weights, got strong together. Shawn was all muscle; 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds.

The Army discharge upset Shawn and left him jobless; he had trained for the Army all his life.

“Hey man, come up here, start over, get a job and you can stay with me,” Jeremiah told him.

Shawn found a job installing satellite dishes. And he found a truck he loved: a 1993 Ford F-150 pickup his father gave him.

That truck, the only possession he really owned, cost him his life.

On July 5, 2014, the brothers woke up and saw the truck was gone.

Minutes later they drove to the nearby QuikTrip at Meridian and MacArthur to get gas - and saw Shawn’s truck, with a metal trailer hitched to the rear and with a driver they didn’t know at the wheel.

The brothers raced to the truck to confront the driver, who started “peeling off, tires screeching,” Jeremiah said.

The brothers grabbed hold.

Both fell, and the trailer wheels ran over them. Jeremiah got cut up and bruised, but Shawn lay mortally hurt. The wheel had run over his head.

The brothers’ parents, Jim and Linda Palmer, raced to Via Christi Hospital St. Francis from their home in Oklahoma.

Shawn was unconscious and comatose. He had a fractured skull. Doctors removed part of his skull to relieve pressure on his brain.

It was not enough.

Doctors called in family; Jeremiah was wheeled in from his hospital room.

Jim, 61, recalled later what the doctor said.

“At this point, I need you to realize that at best, we can hope for him to eventually come to, but he will be in a vegetative state. He will not be the Shawn you knew, nor will he be able to do the things he was able to do.”

They suggested ending life support.

Shawn had told his parents about a year ago in passing that if he were ever in a vegetative state, not to prolong his suffering. But that didn’t make saying the words any easier.

“I had to tell him that I would let my son go,” Jim said.

Soon after that, a woman from a donor association came to talk.

Family members looked at each other. An idea occurred immediately to all of them.

“Larry,” Jim said.

___

Thirty years before Shawn saved Larry Warren’s life, Larry Warren saved Shawn’s father, Jim.

Larry became Jim’s close friend and eventually a close friend to Shawn.

The two elder men first met in 1984, when Larry offered Jim a job.

Jim was broke. He had a wife and two children in Altus, Oklahoma. Larry hired him for his construction business in Claremore, Oklahoma.

Together the two men built 42 Sonic Drive-Ins and the children’s section of the Will Rogers Memorial Museum in Claremore.

Larry one day flew down to Altus to meet Jim’s wife, Linda. She gave him a sealed letter and told him to hand-deliver it to Jim.

Jim opened it later, and said, “Oh no, oh no.”

“What? Is she divorcing you?” Larry asked.

“Worse than that. She’s having another baby.”

___

Jim wanted to go to college but decided not to. Larry changed Jim’s mind.

He adjusted Jim’s work schedule and encouraged him to enroll at Rogers State University in Claremore. He graduated from Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Okla. in 1990.

Later, when his car broke down two or three times during the commute to college, Jim would break down himself.

Larry told him: “I’m going to take you to school.”

“I’m quitting,” Jim replied. “My wife has to take care of all those kids by herself.”

No, Larry said.

Four years later, because of Larry, Jim got his bachelor’s degree in art education. Then he got a job teaching art in a Claremore grade school.

Six years later, he became a principal. Ten years later, he became a superintendent, making more than $100,000 a year.

By that time, the man who had saved him was dying of hepatitis C. Larry was losing weight, vomiting blood and turning gray.

“A bag of bones,” his wife, Debbie, said.

___

Larry didn’t know it, but he had been living with hepatitis C nearly his whole life.

He first contracted it when he was 9 years old. He fell off his bicycle and cracked his skull on a sidewalk in Lancaster, California, which required brain surgery.

“This was in 1952, and brain surgery wasn’t very well developed back then,” Larry said. “Back then they didn’t know what hepatitis was.”

Blood he received from a transfusion while in surgery was infected with the disease, which attacks the liver and eventually causes liver failure. He was diagnosed in 2009 and his health started to take a drastic downturn by 2012.

In 2013, Jim and Linda - forever grateful to the man who saved Jim - organized an extravagant 70th birthday party for Larry in a field that he farms near Claremore.

Jim made an extended speech to 125 guests thanking Larry for bringing him out of poverty.

“What about my next birthday?” Larry, now 71, recalled a year later. “Nobody thought I was going to have another birthday, except my wife.”

___

One year later, grief-stricken over his mortally injured son, Jim suddenly realized that Shawn could save Larry.

Families of dying patients can designate certain people whom they want to receive their loved one’s organs. This rarely works out because not everyone’s organs are a match close enough to save another person’s life.

The organ must be the right size, the donor and the recipient must have the right blood type and the tissue surrounding the organ must be the right genetic kind.

Jim told the donor association they wanted to give Shawn’s liver to Larry. Doctors were skeptical, but began investigating.

Jim called Larry that day and cried on the phone.

“The whole family wants you to have this liver,” Jim told him.

Larry, overwhelmed with grief and the Palmer family’s offer, tried to dodge it.

“I’m baling hay,” he told Jim. “I really don’t have time.”

“Don’t be stubborn,” Jim told him, still crying. “I want you to make this work.

“This is the only good thing that will come out of this, if this saves your life, and Shawn thought so much of you.”

___

Shawn had befriended his father’s friend years before the murder.

Larry would take Shawn fishing, let him ride four-wheelers on frozen ponds and helped him get his “old beater” car unstuck from the Claremore mud when he was a teenager.

One of the last things Shawn did before moving to Kansas was see Larry.

“I want to go see Larry, I want to go see Larry,” he told his Mom, Linda. He knew Larry’s liver was in bad shape.

___

After the devastating call from Jim, Larry called his Tulsa doctors and told them of the proposed liver donation. Like Shawn’s doctors in Wichita, they were skeptical, but called the Wichita hospital.

At St. Francis, doctors told the Palmers that Shawn would have to be kept artificially alive for 12 hours more so the organs could be successfully harvested.

“That became a long vigil for all of us,” Jim said later. “Just staying by his side.”

A nun from the Sisters of St. Joseph told the Palmers to keep talking to Shawn. She had endured her own coma, she said. Shawn could probably hear them.

“So for 12 hours it was just one-sided conversation,” Jim said. Shawn lay without moving: comatose, his head swollen and his eyes swollen and closed.

Someone from the donor association came in with a large medal and a quilt that said, “You’re Our Hero.” The Palmers laid the gifts on Shawn’s chest, while Linda spoke to him.

“You’re our hero, and your liver is going to Larry,’” Linda said.

“Mom, look!” Seth Palmer, Shawn’s younger brother, pointed to Shawn’s face.

Fresh tears had pooled below Shawn’s eyes.

___

Doctors removed Shawn from life support hours later. They harvested his liver on July 6, 2014.

A plane had sped from Oklahoma City. It now sped back with Shawn’s liver. Shawn’s family watched the plane depart Wichita on a cellphone app.

To the surprise of all doctors, Shawn’s liver was a perfect match: size, blood type, genetic compatibility. Larry would remember later how his doctor came bounding into the room to tell him that.

The transplant was done, and Larry left the hospital in only 10 days. A normal recovery time for such a surgery is about two to three months.

And it happened just in time.

“Mr. Warren, I don’t think you’d have lasted (another) two weeks,” Larry’s doctor told him afterward. “Your liver was just gone.”

Five days after the surgery - within a week of their son’s death - Jim and Linda came to Oklahoma and had dinner with Larry. He was doing so surprisingly well that doctors let him go out with them.

As they walked out, Linda put her arm around Larry.

“I just wanted to hug part of my boy.”

___

The truck thief was found guilty of second-degree murder, aggravated battery and theft. He currently sits in the Sedgwick County Jail.

Court records show he had an extensive criminal history and an ongoing addiction to methamphetamine. He will be sentenced at a hearing Sept. 30; he could receive 34 to 38 years in prison.

The Palmers hope “Shawn’s gift,” as they call it, will inspire others to register as organ donors.

“At the root of this whole story is a young man who gave his whole life and that, even in passing, has given a greater gift than any of us can ever do or imagine doing,” Jim said.

“The uniqueness of being able to do it with someone . we are intimately familiar with is just amazing.”

Police found Shawn’s pickup in a field, totaled, after the murder.

Jeremiah and Jim decided to restore an 1962 Chevrolet Impala in Shawn’s memory. They are almost finished.

They plan to take it to car shows in Kansas and Oklahoma to tell Shawn’s story and inspire organ donations.

Jim’s first grandchild, Shawnee, the daughter of Jeremiah and Sarah Palmer, was born on July 8 - one year and two days after Shawn’s passing. She was named in memory of Shawn.

Jeremiah is still stationed as an active-duty service member at McConnell Air Force Base.

Jim now works as an art teacher at Pleasant Valley Middle School in Wichita. He says his faith helped him.

“It’s been not only a comfort, but also a joy that things have turned out so remarkably well.”

It turned out as Shawn would have wanted, he said.

“I desperately want to see my son honored,” he said.

“That’s all I think about: honoring Shawn.”

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