In January of this year, Bill Connor received the phone call that every parent dreads. His 20-year-old daughter and 22-year-old son were vacationing in Cancun, Mexico, when they were both found unconscious in a swimming pool. “For the first time in my life, I was speechless,” said Connor. His daughter, Abigail, a junior at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, drowned. His son was resuscitated and survived, and graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee on May 21. The sudden loss of young Abbey inspired Bill, an avid cyclist, to go on a trek from Madison, Wisconsin, to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. On May 22 he embarked on a 2,000-mile cycling journey that brought him into Muscatine on May 24, 2017.
Abbey’s death that day spawned new life. Abbey made a choice several years ago while she and her father were having a discussion about his final plans. “We had a discussion [when] the kids were in high school where I let it be known that I wanted to be cremated. I didn’t to be put in a box and planted six feet under; I wanted them to take my ashes and set me free,” said Conner. “Abbey said she wanted the same thing, and in the case of a tragedy she wanted it known that she wanted to be an organ donor.” Abbey’s heart, liver, pancreas, kidneys, eyes, and tissues went to four recipients. “If they weren’t able to use her organs, it would have felt like her life was wasted to die like that,” said Conner.
Along his journey, Bill Conner is staying with host families. “I feel like that makes this journey more authentic. Meeting people is a huge part of this mission.”
Paulette and Brett McGreer saw a post on social media that Conner needed a place to stay, and they opened up their home. “My husband and I are also bike riders and we enjoy meeting people who are on tour, as we call it, and he’s riding for a really good cause here, so it was easy for us to open our home up to him.”
Conner said, “I have to trust the process and everything happens for a reason. There is a reason that the McGreers and I met.” The McGreers’s daughter, Kelsey, was also part of the hosting experience. “We can’t forget Kelsey,” said Connor. “She is a great kid and she actually reminded me so much of Abbey. There was absolutely a reason that I was sent to this home.”
As Bill Conner moves southward on his bicycle, he plans on stopping in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. A 20-year-old man received Abbey’s heart, and Conner will have the opportunity to meet him. “It is amazing, the similarities. Abbey’s heart went to a young man who is the same age she was, at the same stage of college that she was, and I know that she still lives on because of her heart has allowed this young man to live.”
“It is as easy as going to donatelife.net and sign up,” said Connor. “This may not sound right, but don’t be selfish. Sign up to donate. You can help people in need.
“The sting of how this happened will never go away. But knowing that she saved lives makes me extremely proud of her,” Connor said. One donor can help eight people. Eye and tissue donors can help up to 40 people. “What I want people to do, young and old, is to sign up and donate to be organ and tissue donors.”