The People News, a free newspaper serving Cleveland Tennessee (TN) and Bradley County Tennessee (Tn).

Of Bradley County Tn.


                            The People News, a free newspaper serving Cleveland and Bradley County Tn.








by Toneeke Henderson

February is the month that we consider to represent love. Because you are all probably expecting some silly love story out of me, I am going to share with you a story about " The Greatest Love of All". In 1978 I was working for a place called "The Speedy Theater" in Florida. This was a theater that allowed young adults and college age or bound people to have hands-on experience in a semi professional arena. This of course is what separates the kids from the grown ups definitely.

It was about six weeks into my schedule that I was told I would be giving birth to our second child. Ultra sound was not as flexible to have at that time and I didn't want to know what sex the baby was until it was born because that is the beautiful surprise of birth. Everyone at the theater congratulated me. I was very happy too. My job at the theater was to stage manage the back drops and murals to be painted. I had to design the unique items to be used as props and help those who were less experienced than I. Everyone worked hard and happy  together.

We put on numerous shows throughout the year. I soon became the rolly polly of the group and everyone looked out for me. It was nearing September, the theater would be closing for a few months to get a face lift for the building. I was technically due to have my baby  in September, but this child was going to hang on for a bit longer, just like the first one did. As we were approaching our last show we decided that the stage hands as well as the actors would all participate in a beautiful closing song.

Toneeke Henderson

Yes you guessed it "The Greatest Love of All " was selected. As the lights dimmed and the announcement was made for the special closing song, the music began. We all entered one by one from the stage sides embracing each other and forming a very long line side by side. As we sang the words to the song  "The greatest love of All" I believe we each realized exactly what they meant. Here are a few lines from that song:

I believe the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way. Show them all the beauty they possess inside. Give them a sense of pride to make it easier. Let the children's laughter remind us how we used to be. I decided long ago never to walk in anyone's shadow. If I fail, If I succeed, at least I live as I believe. No matter what they take from me they can't take away my dignity. Because the greatest love of all is happening to me.

Aren't those beautiful words.

It was shortly after that last show, on Halloween a month later that I gave birth to our son Wesley. I remember the nurses saying how he was so beautiful, just like c-section babies and not a blemish on him, no dry skin, no wrinkles, just this beautiful glow that won all their hearts.

They say that c-section babies are so pretty that the Angels must have kissed them. Wesley was just a normal delivery but those Angels didn't know when to quit kissing him. (I think the stork forgot the postage that's why he was a late delivery. ** Wink)

A Mother never really knows how much a child hears while is in their womb, but I think I do. Back then I talked to my babies, sang to them, stayed creative and enjoyed life with laughter and a sense of humor for all those who would never know laughter. And for the sake that my child growing inside of me who would know of the beauty the world really had... Not just be able to grow up and know the difference but make the difference.

Children learn what they live, a saying so true. For within the next sixteen years I would see a beautiful soul expand beyond his young years, with accomplishments and choices that most kids would never think about making. Wesley's life was ended just 2 1/2 months before he would be sixteen, when a drunk driver crashed into him.

Two weeks before his death we were having a family conversation about organ donation. I asked each of our three children what they would want to do if anything ever happened to any of them.  All three children agreed that it would be a great thing to donate their organs. Now, that my friends is called "The Greatest Love of All."

Wesley lived two days, he underwent 8 hours of surgery, a massive stroke and then brain death.  The Tennessee Donor Services was there. We agreed to let Wesley's wishes be known and that he would be a donor. It is a wonderful gift to give. To know that through life we give life, we lose life and yet give it again. It is a timed circle that must be generated.

It is only through brain death that the heart can be taken for transplant.  I am a curious soul, I wanted to know more. I asked how long it took for the heart recovery surgery on Wesley, it was a mere four hours. A surgeon from St. Thomas Hospital in Nashville flew to Chattanooga's Erlanger hospital, performed the removal surgery, took the recovered heart and flew back to the waiting recipient. Wesley's heart was placed into a man who would not have lived much longer.

The waiting man was 51 year old J.R. Richmond. A man who had served his country in the Marines. He lives in Henderson, Kentucky. You want to know how Angel's meet?.. Our last name is Henderson. Wesley was still technically 15, J.R. was 51. We were able to meet and become friends with J. R. and his family. It was an awesome experience embracing a man who's heart beat was once inside your child inside your womb. Only a mother can truly relate to that thought. If we close our eyes we can still hear and feel those very beats even after all these years.

The Organ Donation program is a wonderful way to give that last gift of life, that in your soul you know will be "The Greatest Love of All." It was through Wesley's gift to J.R.  that we met a friend of his, who was joyful for the extension of life J.R. now had. Two months later she would be faced with the same decision that we made. She chose organ donation, because Wesley's gift gave her the courage to see first hand the power of  "The Greatest Love of All." Her choice helped 144 people of all ages to have a fuller life.


The Tennessee Donor Services is a very special group of beautiful people who have committed their lives to helping others in understanding the transplant process both for the recipient and donor families. I have made friends with those who are  in the Chattanooga office. My favorite person to talk to there is Senior Recovery Director, Deirdre McAdams. She decided as a child to help with this great mission.

Deirdre has been with the donor services for 14 years. In talking with her I have learned that the success rate of transplants is about 90% and above in the first year. In 2003 there were 49 heart transplants in Tennessee and 1,774 nationwide for hearts alone. The waiting list is nearly 70,000 people currently for all organs. The Tennessee Donor Services was one of the earlier programs, in existence since the mid 1960's.

Deirdre explains that "donation is a personal decision, it is important to make an informed choice. One should get the facts, make a decision and share the decision with family." She is truly a wise and wonderful soul.

If you want to see a beautiful place that emanates the essence of those who have given  the gift of life, that "Greatest Love of All," visit the "Tree of Life Park" in Chattanooga off Bonnie  Oaks just past the soccer camp. There is a bench that was donated in memory of Wesley along with several other donor families, and beautiful trees planted every year in memory of all donor families. The park is dedicated to local people who have given the gift of life through organ and tissue donation.  It is filled with flowering trees symbolizing how donation is about life, not death. 

You can contact the Tennessee Donor Services at 423-756-5736 for more information. It is a wonderful mission with a wonderful cause.

In summing it up I want to say .. 
Life is a fragile space that we each experience. Within that space we find the meaning of  existence. Within that existence we find love.
Love is a fragile space that we each acknowledge. Through that acknowledgment we find peace and serenity. Within that peace and serenity we find our soul.
Time is a fragile space that we each understand. It is through that understanding that we know life. And it is truly through life that we know and give freely one true gift,  "The Greatest Love Of All."

Happy Valentine's Day Everyone!