The Goldendale Sentinel - Headlines & History since 1879

By Lou Marzeles

Donor and recipient families meet to honor and share


Lou Marzeles

TWO LIVES LIVE ON: Goldendale's Cliff West is alive today because of the kindness of a Spokane family who lost their son, Chris Hammers.

Cliff West worked for Klickitat County for 25 years and lived in Goldendale since 1970. Two years ago, it seemed likely that he was ready for his epitaph summing up his life. Today West is not only alive and well but running races and living more fully than ever.

All this hinged on two sudden turns of events, one life-giving, the other a tragedy.

"It was idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis," West recalls of the day he heard why he was dying. One of his lungs was scarred and rapidly losing functionality. "I never smoked, do not drink," he says. "I was just always a very, very active person, and I had this disease for 10 to 12 years and did not know it." Doctors themselves didn't know how he came to have the disease; "idiopathic" is medical shorthand for, "We have no idea how this got there."

By the time he did learn of his condition, West was given 18 months at the outside to live.

But another man, just on the outskirts of the rest of his life and living in Spokane, was given no notice at all of his imminent death.

One day in May 2013 Chris Hammers, having just received his motorcycle endorsement, came to the intersection of Maple and Mission in Spokane where he was thrown head-first off his motorcycle into an oncoming car. He died on June 3, 2013, at the age of 23.

Soon after a call came to West. A lung was available for him to receive a transplant, the only thing that could save his life. It was Chris Hammers' lung.

In a surgery on June 14 West received Hammers' lung. This June 14 will mark two years of post-transplant life for West.

It's also been two years of the Hammers family living in grief over their beloved son. But a few weeks ago, a huge step toward healing and solace took place when the West family came to Spokane to meet the Hammers family and honor their son.

Spokane held its Bloomsday festival on May 3 this year. It features a marathon-style 7.5-mile race. In it was Cliff West, wearing a tee shirt with the words, "In memory of Chris Hammers" on the back. And walking four miles of the race with him were members of Chris Hammers' family.

"It was done with my donor family," as West refers to the Hammers. "I wanted to do this."

KHQ TV, Spokane

Chris Hammers

The event ramped up over some time. "We started sending emails, and then Chris' dad talked to friends on Facebook," West says. "I had the tee shirt made in memory of Chris, and I asked them, 'Could I wear that in his honor?' And they told me, 'Sure.' and then we got to be friends. I asked them if they would meet me at the finish line. And they did, Chris's mom and dad, and older sister and his 11-year-old brother." Also in the race were West's family members from Goldendale and Seattle, his two sons and daughters-in-law and his daughter.

"Now I am all about, 'If I can help reach out to anyone who is sick now and need to know about transplants'-there are a lot of people in transplant need," West says.

Next up for West: the Rock and Roll half-marathon in Seattle, 13.1 miles, on June 13. Joining him will be some of the staff from his transplant team in Seattle.

That same month, West will turn 65 years old. He's already past the age when he would have died but for the loving will of a grieving family.


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