12/10/04 — 'I'm going to heaven ,,,' Avery Hackett, 6, left hope among tears

View Archive

'I'm going to heaven ,,,' Avery Hackett, 6, left hope among tears

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on December 10, 2004 2:02 PM

J.B. Rhodes

Joe Hackett has cried many tears since his 6-year-old daughter, Avery, died this week.

Still, Hackett and Avery's mother know that Avery left hope for others. The couple say she gave the gift of life this Christmas through organ donation.

"My little girl saved four lives today," Joe Hackett said Thursday.

Avery was declared brain dead on Wednesday by doctors at UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill. The family decided to keep her on life support until recipients could be found for the organs.

Hackett said his daughter's heart went to a child in Minnesota. Her liver went to another child in the same hospital where Avery died. Someone in Washington, D.C., got one kidney, and the other was being prepared to send to another person in need of it.

Hackett said her pancreas would be used for research to help other children, and her brain was donated to UNC so that researchers could try to understand the illness that struck Avery.

"It's only fitting that she keep giving," Hackett said.

Avery, a first-grader at Meadow Lane Elementary School, had experienced sinus problems that seemed to worsen this year, he said. Thinking it might be a sinus infection, Hackett said doctors ordered a CAT scan to rule out anything more serious.

The test showed a brain tumor.

Hackett said he received the news last Thursday and the family traveled to Chapel Hill that night in preparation for a Friday morning appointment.

Surgery was scheduled for Monday morning. It seemed to go well. Then something inexplicable happened.

Gena Hackett said an artery in her daughter's head became blocked and Avery suffered a stroke. She never regained consciousness.

"This is one case where the doctors absolutely do not know what happened," Mrs. Hackett said.

Even so, on Thursday evening as a steady stream of visitors milled through the family home to pay respects, Mrs. Hackett said she had a strange sense of calm.

"I know I have no regrets about the time I spent with Avery," she said. "I spent all the time with her I could."

Referring to Avery as his "campaign manager," Hackett said she accompanied him often both times that he ran for a seat on the school board. He said she became a familiar face to many and, as a result, touched a lot of lives.

Hackett said he draws comfort from knowing where his little girl is now.

"I know she's in heaven," he said. "One thing, she said the sinner's prayer on October 31 of this year." The sinner's prayer is the prayer of repentance and salvation.

Hackett said more reassurance came after a visit from the family's pastor, Andy Stovall of Whitley Pentecostal Holiness Church.

"She loved Pastor Andy to death," Hackett said. "Whenever we'd go to church, she had to go give him a hug and a kiss.

Stovall visited the family the night before the surgery, Hackett said, offering a special prayer for Avery.

After Stovall left, Hackett said, Avery started dancing around her hospital room and said, "I'm going to heaven. Pastor Andy prayed for me."

Hackett said, "As a parent, you don't want to talk about that. But she knew, and God was speaking to us, trying to prepare us for what was to come."

Hackett said he and his wife thought it was appropriate to donate Avery's organs. He said that before her own operation, his daughter became fascinated watching a surgery being performed on TV. Avery told her father she might even want to become a doctor, he said.

"She gave the gift of life to four people this Christmas," he said. "She's my own little doctor now because she saved a lot of lives today."

A celebration of life is planned for Saturday at 6 p.m. at Whitley Church. Interment will be Sunday at 3 p.m.

In lieu of flowers, Mrs. Hackett said the family would like people to donate stuffed animals.

"We want to take them up to the children at UNC Hospital so they'll have a friend," she said.

Mrs. Hackett said the one thing she most wants to tell other people is, "Hug your child and tell them you love them because you never know how long you have."