SPENCER, Ind. — Just a few hours after Ryan Wilcoxen was taken to surgery to recover his organs for donation, his wife, Ashley, wanted to share his legacy.
The 31-year-old Owen Valley High School baseball coach and special education teacher suffered a brain bleed February 19 and never recovered.
"All I want to do right now is talk about Ryan,” Ashley said Friday afternoon at the Owen Valley baseball diamond. “I want to tell anybody and everybody about him, and about how blessed I was to have him, and how grateful I am, and what a wonderful person he is."
With Ryan's best friend, Garrett Sarchet, sitting on the bleachers next to her for support, Ashley found comfort in knowing matches were already made for her husband's heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys.
"This has been the worst week of my life,” Ashley said. “But somewhere out there in this country a person got a phone call that said that 'we've found a match for your heart,' that they've literally been waiting for to save their life. And selfishly, I hate so badly what had to happen for that, but I can't change it. So, knowing that there are people out there getting those phone calls and going to their hospitals to prep for surgery; they’re finally getting the gift that they prayed for. I’m grateful for that."
Ryan suffered a brain bleed while at home a week ago, likely caused by an arteriovenous malformation (AVM). The swelling quickly cut off oxygen to his brain and caused irreversible damage.
"Ryan could have been given a trach, feeding tube and spent the rest of his life on a ventilator. But that's not Ryan. This is Ryan,” said Ashley pointing toward the baseball diamond behind her.
Ryan came to Owen Valley in the fall of 2019 after coaching at several other high schools. But coronavirus canceled last season. He was looking forward to finally coaching his first game at his new school this spring.
Ashley and Ryan have two daughters, Grace and Delaney.
"I still don't know how you tell a six-year-old and four-year-old that their daddy's not coming home,” said Ashley, crying. “I keep praying to God that when that time comes for me to talk to my girls that he just gives me the words, because I don't know what they are."
The lights are on at the Owen Valley baseball field and at diamonds around the state Friday night in memory of Ryan Wilcoxen. He coached and taught previously at Edinburgh, Eminence, Eastern Greene, and Brown County High Schools.
He became a special education teacher at Owen Valley, helping students with emotional disabilities.
"So kids that struggle just day to day and he was a rock for those kids,” said Owen Valley High School Principal Robert Boltinghouse. “A lot of times where they couldn't make traction or gains in other areas in the building, they were able to come to him and he was able to help them through those."
Ashley is an assistant principal at the school. Her sister is the organizer of a Go Fund Me account to help the family with medical expenses.
The Indiana Donor Network issued this statement:
"Through the gift of organ donation, Coach Wilcoxen and his family are providing hope and healing to others, and we are grateful for their incredible generosity. Donors and their families are heroes. One donor can save up to eight lives through organ donation and heal up to 75 people through tissue donation. Right now, more than 100,000 people are waiting for a lifesaving organ transplant nationwide, and over 1,000 of those patients are in Indiana. We offer our sincere condolences to Coach Wilcoxen’s family, friends, and community."