Curiosity about a plaque at CrossRoads UMC ball field prompts team to learn about organ donation

6/22/2015

Cathi Johnson of CrossRoads UMC in Collierville, Tenn., right, receives gifts of appreciation from baseball team that uses church ball field made possible by donations in memory of Johnson's daughter, Ashley Blythe, who died in 2001 and whose donated organs gave life to others. (Photo by Mid-South Transplant Foundation)


In April, a team of young boys, called “BattersBox,” played baseball on the baseball/softball field at CrossRoads UMC in Collierville, Tenn. Honoring Organ Donor Awareness Month, the players wore stickers on their helmets from the Mid-South Transplant Foundation.
 
The stickers also honored the memory of Ashley Blythe, a 17-year-old girl who died in a 2001 car crash and whose donated organs gave life to others.
 
According to Blythe’s mother, Cathi Johnson, Ashley grew up in the United Methodist Church. As a very young child, she attended Aldersgate UMC in Memphis, Tenn., with Johnson, her father, Ric Blythe, and her younger sister, Erin.
 
“We loved it there and Ashley and our younger daughter, Erin, started learning about Jesus there,” Johnson said.
 
After her parents divorced, Blythe and her sister attended Good Shepherd UMC in Memphis, Underwood UMC in Memphis (now closed), and later, CrossRoads UMC in Collierville, Tenn.
 
While Blythe grew, Johnson said, she developed a talent for softball, and as a freshman, she started on the varsity team for Germantown High School in Germantown, Tenn. During the summers, she played with a recruited team. She even dreamed about playing in the Olympics.
 
But Blythe never had the chance to realize that dream. She died during her senior year of high school.
 
Although the car crash rendered her brain dead, Blythe's athletic body remained in good shape, and her parents donated her organs. Johnson said her heart went to a sick 14-year-old; her lungs went to a man with cystic fibrosis; and her liver and other tissues went to other people who needed them.
 
In 2001, Johnson and her husband, Paul, made a donation to CrossRoads UMC in memory of Blythe. The church used the money to finish its ball field and install bleachers. A ceremony dedicated the field to Blythe.
 
Fourteen years later, the BattersBox players now pitch and bat on that field. Johnson said team leader Danny Harrington saw the dedication plaque, and then the coaches and parents looked up Blythe’s story online. Touched, they contacted the Mid-South Transplant Foundation to get stickers for the boys’ helmets, and they even sent a donation to the organization. The team also invited Johnson and her family to the field to thank them for their gifts.

“It’s a beautiful thing to honor Ashley’s legacy this way," according to CrossRoads UMC's pastor, Rev. Birgitte French. Quoted on the Mid-South Transplant Foundation's website, she says, "We are glad that someone wants to use our softball field. We are thrilled how they’re taking care of it. We are so humbled by their gesture. It goes to show that when you give something to someone, you get it back tenfold."
 
"Nov. 11, 2001, seems so long ago," said Johnson. "It has been a wonderful surprise to be able to share her story again. I want Ashley and her gift of life to others to be remembered and I want adults and children to be aware that life can change, can end, in an instant. We should be prepared for the physical aspects of that, but more importantly, the spiritual. Ashley grew up in church and knew Jesus. It's comforting to know her soul is in the right place."

See more pictures and read more about Blythe's story on the Mid-South Transplant Foundation website.