fbpx

Mom helps Oxford High School students remember friend and classmate who saved six lives

Justin Shilling, who was killed at the Oxford High School shooting in November 2021 and became an organ and tissue donor

Justin Shilling’s legacy as an organ and tissue donor is helping his mother navigate the depths of her grief. She wanted something for his 1,900 classmates, too.

The Oxford High School senior was one of four students killed in a shooting at the school last fall. He was able to donate both kidneys, one lung, his liver, and his heart valves. Justin saved the lives of six people and helped countless others as a tissue donor.

His organs saved a 29-year-old woman, a 41-year-old woman, a 44-year-old man, and another man who is 75.

Jill Soave and her son, Justin Shilling, in a selfie photoJill Soave is so moved by her son’s legacy – and acutely aware of the trauma and grief felt by his classmates – that she reached out to Gift of Life with a special ask: For every Oxford High School student to have a Gift of Life teddy bear.

“Gift of Life sent us bears as part of the packet for donor families. They were something to hold and touch – something tangible to make us feel a little better,” Jill said. “I wanted those traumatized students to have their own bears, and Justin would have wanted that for them.”

With the help of a grant from the Gift of Life Foundation, nearly 2,000 small bears with Justin’s name printed on a ribbon along with Gift of Life Michigan were delivered to the school in May. Boxes and boxes of bears showed up – enough for every freshman, sophomore, junior and senior, including all online-only students.

“When I learned that Gift of Life would find a way to make it possible, I was extremely humbled – tears of joy,” Jill said. “It was an unbelievable partnership. Those Justin Bears are a reminder that he did something beautiful for others.”

Boxes of teddy bearsThose bears also represent the person Justin was, she said. “He always went out of his way to make others feel included. He gravitated to kids who were bullied or left out. If he was in a room with five kids and one was in the corner, he made a new friend.”

The tiny, soft bears were loved by students who took them home with days left in the most traumatizing school year of their lives.

One mother of an Oxford freshman said the gesture was incredibly moving. “My daughter cried when she received it, cried when she told me about it, and said she would keep it with her always.”

Susan Rink, chief of philanthropy for the Gift of Life Foundation, said the grant for the bears was awarded for three reasons: To remind the community that Justin saved and improved life for so many, to help ease the grief felt by his classmates, and to raise awareness that donation saves lives.

“This project was so meaningful for us,” Susan said. “The staff pulled together to tie blue ribbons to every single bear and package them up before we delivered them by the boxful to the school. We will all remember Justin, his incredible legacy of saving others, and his bears.”

Justin’s 14-year-old brother, Clay, named the project for his classmates “Justin case you need a friend,” saying his friends described the bears as “cute, sentimental and really cool.”

Clay said donating organs and tissue to save others was “on brand” for his brother.

“It fits with who he was – a self-sacrificing man,” he said. “Justin was caring, and he was there when I needed him.”

Watch Jill Soave’s interview on Fox2 Detroit.

Organ Donation

Read more in the Gift of LifeLINES newsletter

Read More Posts
More than 100 staff at Munson Medical Center gathered to celebrate their upcoming Hospital of the Year Award - many of them came in on their day off to join the celebration.

Munson Medical Center Named Hospital of the Year by Gift of Life Michigan

Munson’s John Stanifer, MD and ICU Manager, Eric Jean also to be recognized. Gift of…

Read More
children holding hands

Can a Living Person Donate a Liver?

The liver is an important organ. It filters toxins out of your blood. You can’t…

Read More

Can You Donate Your Placenta?

The placenta is a one-of-a-kind organ that plays a significant role in pregnancy. It assists…

Read More
A happy family

What Tissue can be Donated?

There are several tissues that one can donate to save lives. This includes cornea, tendons,…

Read More
Dr. Bedi, Rachel Kuntzsch and Sarah Scantamburlo are new Gift of Life Governing Board members

Gift of Life Michigan announces new board members

New board members will bring fresh perspectives and ideas to the table Gift of Life…

Read More
2023 was a record year for Gift of Life Michigan with 578 organ donors and 1,858 tissue donors

Gift of Life Michigan smashes record for organ donors in 2023

More than 213,000 people join Donor Registry Gift of Life Michigan helped a record 578…

Read More
Scroll to Top