KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Over a week ago, Kalamazoo County native and gay rights advocate Bryan Higgins, 31, who friends called “Feather,” was found in San Francisco beaten so badly in that it was clear he would not be able to live on his own without assistance.
On August 13, family and friends gathered for vigils both in California and West Michigan at 3:33 p.m., the time he was taken off life support.
Now he is saving others through organ donation.
Feather’s death is still under investigation and has yet to be declared a hate crime. As police continue to search for answers and comb through surveillance video.
His family is dealing with the loss, and some unexpected hurdles when it comes to gay men and organ donations. Feather and his husband was with each other for 16 years, according to his sister-law, Liz George. Feather has always been a part of their family, which makes losing him even harder, but they found out something recently that put them at ease.
“As hard as it is to justify when it does hit that close to home, the universe does have a plan for everybody,” said George.
A plan that’s sometimes hard for others to make sense of, like Elizabeth George, Feather’s sister-in-law, who says losing her honorary little brother is hard to grasp.
“I think we kind of just all found out that Bryan was an organ donor because of this even,” said George.
The family says they took this as a positive sign, symbolic of Feather’s constant inclination to give, even after he was gone.
“This was Feather’s experience, and it did end, and now it was time for him to give to somebody else in his after-life,” said George.
This was a process the family was unfamiliar with, since they were unaware he was a donor at first.
“I didn’t know that there were time restrictions, and they really want through all of the testing. You look back and obviously it makes sense that you have to test. You have to make sure that what you’re putting into a healthy person is healthy,” said George.
According to Gift of Life Michigan, an organ and tissue donor goes through three levels of testing: physical examinations, lab testing, and medical history. After all the information is looked at as a whole, it is decided which organs are good to go.
“As far as I know after his passing all his organs were tested, and all of them passed and they were able to be donated,” said George.
Feather’s organ donation process was a little different.
“So really it’s a lifestyle, but it’s really the choices that you make,” said George.
Feather was a homosexual, according to “Gift of Life Michigan”, gay men don’t make the list for tissue donations, like skin for burn patients, or bones for spinal repairs. That’s because FDA regulations from 1992 that say gay men have an increased risk for HIV, and organ testing isn’t advanced enough to detect undeveloped H.I.V. For example, during an original screening, a tissue sample may show up as H.I.V free but the virus could up late, since it could take years for it to manifest.
“I think it’s a medical thing. I think with anybody that it doesn’t matter your sexual orientation, you can have the same illnesses, the same diseases, the same things in their blood,” said George.
When it comes to organs, gay men do have a chance to donate, but they are put on a list labeled high risk. The patient, surgeon, and the transplant center have to be alerted of this.
A practice that Feather’s family holds close to their hearts.
“They were able to find immediate recipients that were contacted and available to be prepped and ready for surgery within the area. Brian’s right lung, liver, pancreas, and both kidneys were passed along to save others’ lives. So one life taken, five lives save,” said George.