Purple Heart Recipient Leaves Gifts for Others in Need

James Lawrence Kennedy | Tissue and cornea donor

James Lawrence Kennedy lived to serve others – his country, his community, and most of all his family. He received a Purple Heart for his service in the Army during the Vietnam War, where he survived being ejected from a tank after the detonation of a roadside bomb.

James Kennedy pictured fishing with his sons
Jim, right, with his sons.

Even after his time in the military, Jim continued to serve. He was active in his church as a home group leader, greeter, and choir member. He mentored struggling students. And as an avid sports enthusiast — including a decades-long season ticketholder of the Washington Huskies football team — he was a natural fit to help coach his son’s baseball teams. His wife, Melanie, describes him as a 6-foot-2-inch “teddy bear” who was known for a love of life and a hearty laugh.

Jim maintained a life of service in spite of his own obstacles. Due to complications of Agent Orange exposure during the war, he developed advanced kidney disease, which progressed to kidney failure. Jim tragically passed away in 2014 at age 64, just after receiving word that he been cleared to be added to the kidney transplant waiting list. Melanie knew Jim would want to continue serving others even in death. When she learned about the option of donating tissue, she readily agreed.

Because of this generous decision, more than 60 gifts have been sent out for transplantation, including two corneas, as well as a tendon that repaired a high school athlete’s torn ACL. Melanie has received letters of thanks from recipients, and she writes back to share who Jim was. “My family and I really believe in tissue donation because it’s a gift that keeps on giving,” Melanie said. “It keeps Jim alive for us, knowing that his gift has been able to help enrich the lives of so many people, and that gives us great comfort.”

Today, Melanie shares information about donation with as many people as she can. She has volunteered as a co-leader for GriefShare, a recovery support group, and continues to serve on the LifeNet Health Donor Family Advisory Committee, with the goal of celebrating and supporting donor families.