In 2015, three years after the death of their 16-year-old daughter, Heidi and Ted Hill met the woman who received their youngest child’s heart.
The Washington woman, now 35, had a stethoscope at her house and allowed the couple to listen to the heartbeat.
“It was joyful. It wasn’t sad at all,” recalled Heidi Hill, who has since become an active organ donation advocate. “It wasn’t emotionally overwhelming at all. It was pretty cool.”
Shauna Hill suffered critical injuries in a December 2012 collision on Idaho 16 at Floating Feather Road in Eagle. She was on life support for 10 days.
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Shauna’s liver saved the life of a mother of five, now 52, who also lives in Washington.
“We share Christmas cards, and her children have written me thank-you letters,” Heidi Hill said.
Her kidneys were donated to two elderly grandfathers. Her pancreas was donated for islet cells, clusters of which produce vital hormones, including insulin.
The chaplain at the hospital where Shauna died told the Hills that it’s very common for parents who’ve lost a child to end up divorced. They beat the odds, they said, by channeling their grief into action — promoting organ donation, highway improvements, new equipment for rescue personnel and a law to help veterans transfer their education benefits that would otherwise be lost when a family member dies.
Heidi Hill has spoken publicly about organ donation for the Idaho Transportation Department and is an advocate for Donate Life, Yes Idaho and the Pacific Northwest Transplant Bank. She is helping other families, including friends, with the organ donation process.
“Many people have lost children under far worse circumstances,” Heidi Hill said. “We have been humbled to meet parents who have survived the loss of a child and who have helped us find our way from darkness.”
The Hills’ story was thrust back into the news last week, when U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, introduced a bill that would allow veterans such as Ted Hill, a retired Navy captain, to transfer education benefits from one child to another after retirement. Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, introduced a companion bill in the Senate.
Ted Hill’s GI Bill benefits were assigned to Shauna, a top-flight student who aspired to attend Stanford University and then law school. After her death, the Hills were told they couldn’t transfer the benefits to another daughter, Haley.
“Congressman Labrador took a real personal interest in helping our family,” Ted Hill said. “He really reached out. ... His staff and himself really, really pushed hard to make this happen.”
Haley went to college on a soccer scholarship the year that Shauna died and has since graduated with a teaching degree from Eastern Oregon University. Now she’s in graduate school, studying English literature and student teaching. She’d like to go to Oxford University this summer.
If the federal legislation passes, the Hills hope to be reimbursed $100,000 to cover Haley’s graduate school education.
Grief finds new purpose
The Hills helped the Eagle Fire Department acquire new crash extrication equipment by asking the public to donate in their daughter’s memory to the department, starting with a sizable donation of their own.
Ted Hill pored over crash details obsessively and then lobbied state highway officials for safety improvements, including a traffic signal at the intersection and a lower speed limit. He met with several state and local officials before delivering a petition to ITD containing a couple of thousand signatures.
“I got on their case a little,” he said.
Since 2011, there have been seven crashes — and one death, Shauna’s — at Idaho 16 and Floating Feather, according to ITD data. Four crashes happened between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m., and six of them involved drivers between the ages of 16 and 18.
ITD and the Ada County Highway District did a safety audit of the intersection after Shauna’s death. The agency decided a signal wasn’t warranted there.
But a signal is planned, possibly later this year, for just up the road at the intersection of Beacon Light and Idaho 16. That is considered a worse intersection for crashes — both for their frequency and severity, according to ITD. It will create gaps in traffic, reducing the wait time for cars entering the highway at Floating Feather and improving safety at both intersections, according to state transportation officials.
Ada County Highway District added rumble strips to both sides of Floating Feather to alert motorists to the intersection, and ITD reduced the speed on Idaho 16 from 65 mph to 55 mph.
Ted Hill created and maintains a roadside memorial for his daughter. He’s pleased with other safety improvements in the area by ACHD since his daughter’s death, including new streetlights and a reorientation of the stop line on Floating Feather to be right on the highway, instead of set back. Craig Quintana, a spokesman for ACHD, said having the line closer to the highway allows motorists to better gauge the speed of oncoming traffic.
Shauna Hill was an animal lover. Her parents continue to care for her pets, including an 11-year-old schnauzer and a hermit crab.
There’s also a new family member. The Hills, both in their 50s, have adopted a baby boy, Elliott, from a relative. They’ve been raising him since he was born last April.
“We watched him being born,” Heidi said. “We have resources we didn’t have when we were young.”
Ted Hill works as a commercial pilot. He’s considering studying for his second master’s degree in homeland security.
Heidi, a physical education/health teacher, is training for a half-marathon. She said she hopes to one day write a book about her daughter and about surviving the loss of a child.