Special Report: Ryan’s Gifts of Life

At 33 years old, a Northern Michigan man is giving a remarkable gift.

Ryan Anderson died of an opioid overdose last year in Traverse City.

But this is not a story about his death, rather the life he continues to give after it.

Ryan Anderson’s heart was about as big as they come. It had to be in order to keep up with the pace at which he lived life.

“Huge heart, and very intelligent very, very intelligent, I think he kind of kept that hidden how bright he really was,” said his mother Laurie York Anderson.

Ryan took every chance he got to fill his lungs with the breath of life. But he also struggled with an addiction to opioids.

“You would never have known this. He was not the kind of person that you would have suspected this because there were long, long periods where he wasn’t using and you can see that by the photographs, he was not using all the time,” said York Anderson.

Ryan faced his addiction head on, working towards recovery in Traverse City.

“He got himself into N.A. here. He did it 100 percent. He got a sponsor, he started going to meetings, he started doing service work, he did open talks at Munson Hospital, he was very active. He was extremely successful in his recovery,” recalled York Anderson.

Sadly, Ryan relapsed in 2012. He was found unresponsive from an overdose on January 29th of 2017.

“I was fortunate enough to have gotten probably a year earlier a narcan injector. I quickly grabbed that and used that and nothing. I knew we’re in trouble, I knew it was much more serious,” said York Anderson.

It became clear at the hospital Ryan wouldn’t make it, and his family began discussing what to do next.

“There was a discussion about organ donation because it wasn’t on his license, and I basically said I knew that’s what he wanted, I’m the mom and we’re going to do it. We walked down and out to the ambulance and loaded him in and I think we all hugged like put our arms around each other and held hands and it pulled away silently with the light flashing,” said York Anderson.

His family hoped to one day meet the people who would receive the organs he donated the morning of his death. That day came less than a year later.

Peter Archangel received Ryan’s heart after being diagnosed with congestive heart failure.

“Life was a series of hospital visits because I would have attacks when I would have shortness of breath or feel very bad. It got to a point where it was starting to effect other organs and it was at a point where they needed to do something,” said Archangel.

Peter got the call while in the ICU that Ryan’s heart was on the way.

“It was like nervous excitement because now it’s going to happen, it’s one thing to happen, but to know it’s actually going to happen, they’re going to perform surgery, and it’s a very sensitive surgery. The heart is doing absolutely wonderful, I’m getting good exams, and they check my heart periodically,” said Archangel.

Joel Renauer received Ryan’s lungs after battling a disease that causes scarring of the lungs.

“Got the phone call on February 1st about 2 or 3 o clock in the morning. I just said all I know is that when this is all over, when the surgery is done, I will be in a better place than I am at this second. The lungs are fantastic, I love them,” said Renauer.

Ryan’s final act giving the light of life to what were complete strangers.

“I could just feel my son was present here. His heart and lungs were here and it’s just wonderful to know that he save these people’s lives,” said his step-father Rick Wilkins.

These three families now forever bonded through Ryan’s gifts of life.

“These are husbands and fathers who are at death’s door and now they’ve been given a chance, and there’s incredible joy in knowing that he lives on,” said York Anderson.

For information on organ donation, click here.