A small life, a big legacy

One baby’s life-giving organ donation is helping others years later

Behind the podcast: Hear Autumn Toelle-Jackson describe how her daughter’s gifts continue to save and heal lives  on our Let’s Talk Hope podcast at letstalkhopepodcast.com or wherever you find your podcasts.

Riley Jackson’s parents thought she had a cold. She was only three and a half months old, so they took her to the hospital because she seemed dehydrated. At the hospital, her condition suddenly worsened. Her heart stopped unexpectedly. The medical team started her on a ventilator, and she was flown to a larger hospital for care. Riley never awoke again.

When Riley was declared brain dead, her parents Autumn and Kyle asked about organ donation. They wanted to keep other families from going through the same type of loss. Their decision ultimately accomplished that: Despite her tiny size, Riley donated her heart, liver and kidney to people in need of life-saving transplants.

“We knew something good was coming out of it as much as it was horrible for us. We knew she was gonna be able to give some miracles,” Autumn says.

Two weeks after Riley’s death, Autumn and Kyle learned Riley died of botulism, rare but often lethal in infants. She was only the fourth infant known to have died from botulism in the past 20 years in the United States. Fortunately, the toxin did not prevent her from donating her organs to save the lives of others.

Autumn and Kyle discovered that while they chose to donate Riley’s organs to help others, it helped them, too.

“When we first decided we wanted to donate her organs, it was because we didn’t want other people to hurt like we were hurting.  We didn’t expect it to help us and then, all of a sudden it did,” Autumn says.

Riley’s death was not their first great loss. Autumn’s first husband passed away at a young age. She also lost a dear cousin. She suffered miscarriages. Kyle had recently lost his father. Autumn decided to tell her story publicly. She wrote a book about grief and healing. Now, she participates in podcasts and online groups to share her experiences, help others across the country and to advocate for organ and tissue donation. Sharing her story has helped Autumn heal.

Autumn shares the importance of talking about organ donation at home, so families are prepared if that time comes. She wants everyone to know that children can be donors like Riley was, and that many children are waiting for transplants.

“I think having those conversations and sharing stories like Riley’s and educating people on the fact that organ donation, isn’t just for adults… is a really important aspect that’s under communicated.”


Register your decision today to become an organ, eye and tissue donor. Talk with your family and friends about your decision to donate life.