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Organ donor who was Army Ranger gave life to his country, then another American

WASHINGTON — Cpl. Benjamin Kopp gave his life. And then he saved one.

An Army Ranger who had been on his third tour of duty, Kopp was buried Friday at Arlington National Cemetery. Sadly, it's a familiar story: a young man dead before his time, shot by unnamed enemies on the other side of the world.

But this time, there was a renewed life, too. Kopp wanted to be an organ donor. And after he died, his heart was transplanted into a family member's friend who had a rare form of congenital heart disease.

"How can you have a better heart?" said a grateful Judy Meikle, 57, of Winnetka, Ill., who is still recovering from the surgery. "I have the heart of a 21-year-old Army Ranger war hero beating in me."

Kopp's mother, Jill Stephenson of Rosemount, Minn., said that in addition to her son's heart, doctors removed his kidneys, pancreas and liver for transplant.

"It helps my sorrow; it eases my pain. It really does," Stephenson said. "I know that Ben wanted to help save lives … and it really prolongs Ben's life and honors his memory so much and honors me in that we could save other lives."

Kopp had served two tours of duty in Iraq when he left this spring for Afghanistan. On July 10, his unit attacked a Taliban safe haven in Helmand province, according to the 75th Ranger Regiment. The fight lasted several hours, resulting in the deaths of more than 10 Taliban fighters, but Kopp was shot in the leg.

He was flown to Germany before being transferred to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.

The doctors at Walter Reed raised the possibility of organ donation with Stephenson, but she said there was never much question that it would happen. Kopp had talked about it and indicated his preference both on his driver's license and in his living will with the Rangers.

He died July 18, and Meikle had her transplant two days later.

"Ben and Jill were so courageous that something good came out of something that was the worst thing that could happen to someone," Meikle said. "I'm just the luckiest woman alive."

At Arlington on Friday, Kopp's friends and family gathered on the southern side of Section 60, where many of the fallen from Iraq and Afghanistan are buried.

Several Rangers from Kopp's unit had come up from Fort Benning on Thursday. "They're Ben's brothers. Those are his brothers-in-arms, and those guys are all very shook up about losing Ben," Stephenson said. "They've all sworn that I've gained them as sons now."

Organ donor who was Army Ranger gave life to his country, then another American 08/08/09 [Last modified: Saturday, August 8, 2009 11:36pm]
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