Family loses son but finds comfort knowing his heart lives on

Family loses son but finds comfort knowing his heart lives on
21-year-old David Cologne (Source: WAFB)
21-year-old David Cologne (Source: WAFB)
Parents of David Cologne release a butterfly in his honor (Source: WAFB)
Parents of David Cologne release a butterfly in his honor (Source: WAFB)

PUMPKIN CENTER, LA (WAFB) - Most of us would consider ourselves lucky to fill up one life. Charles Henderson is strolling through his second.

He likes to reflect on both as he roams the wooded roads north of Pumpkin Center, LA.

"That was some ponds back there," he said pointing through a thicket of gumball trees and kudzu. "That's where we used to swim. Where I used to get beat down for sneaking off trying to swim."

It seems like a lifetime ago for the 65-year-old. And it was.

Three years ago, his strolls through those memories almost ended.

"They lost me," Henderson explained. "They actually came out and pronounced me dead."

Henderson had suffered a heart attack and after three surgeries to remove bruised blood from around his heart doctors could not help him. But something about the way Henderson's family reacted -- the praying and the calling -- prompted the doctor to try just once more.

Henderson was back, and with the proper medication, he would live.

A year later, his doctors gave him news even worse than dying. Henderson remembers, "They came and told me my heart was weaker. There was no further I could go with this heart."

For Henderson to live, someone else would have to die.

October 2014, David Cologne was at a Halloween party with his friends in Baton Rouge. He was walking on Nicholson Drive when he was hit by a car.

"He was a beautiful soul," said his mother Jennifer. "He loved music. He was always that goofy kid that made everyone laugh. Everybody knew him as Du-Du."

21-year-old Du-Du was rushed to Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. By the time his parents could make the drive from their home in Raceland, the news was not good.

"I was listening to what the doctor was telling me, but I knew in his eyes," she said. "His eyes were telling me he was gone. His body was physically there, but Du-Du -- who Du-Du was -- was gone."

Faced with the inevitable, the Cologne's had a decision to make. For the answer, they turned to a conversation they had had a year earlier with the goofy kid who made everyone smile.

"There was something on the TV. Something about someone on life support," Jennifer remembers. "He was like, 'Mom, if that happens to me, if you can save me, save me.' He said, 'But if you can't, let me go. I want to save others. I want to be an organ donor.'"

Not long after that, Du-Du made the change official by adding the small heart and "DONOR" sign on his driver's license.

November 3, 2014, Henderson had been sitting at home waiting for more than three months when he got the call. He grabbed his niece from across the street and headed straight for Oschner hospital in New Orleans. It took a couple hours to confirm a match, but by 1:00 a.m. November 4, he was on the operating table. By Noon, Du-Du's heart beat inside Henderson's body.

It's been that way for more than a year now.

"It seems like the colors are brighter. The birds sound cheerier," said Henderson.

And though for the pain of their loss will never heal, the Colognes take comfort in the fact that the kid with the beautiful soul saved the lives of three people.

"It's bittersweet, when you meet the recipients," said Du-Du's father, David. "But you feel he's still living on, and he is. He lives on."

For Henderson, Du-Du's gift means a second life, a time to reflect on memories from a childhood in the woods of Tangipahoa Parish and make new ones with a fifth generation of Hendersons.

"Du-Du's picture is on top the TV by my bed," Henderson said. "When I open my eyes every morning, when I close my eyes at night, he's the first and the last thing I see."

April is National Donate Life month. You can find out more about organ donation through the Louisiana Organ Procurement Association website.

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