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Families of organ donors can now choose to recognize the gift by placing a "donate life" symbol in the obituary.

It's something Michelle Johnson wishes had been available when her husband, Kash, died in August 2003, because that last gift was so much a part of who he was, she said.

Kash Johnson was an airline pilot who occasionally ferried donor organs, handing them directly to doctors. That convinced him he wanted to be an organ donor as well, his wife remembers.

She didn't have to make a decision when her husband died in a car crash. "He'd signed the card. There was a place for the spouse to sign and I had. He said, 'I can't take it with me,' and I knew that's what he wanted," Michelle Johnson said. Because of the nature of his injuries, he could not donate vital organs like the heart or liver. But he was able to donate bone and skin and corneas, heart valves and hip sockets. One of those gifts would come around to help one of his own beloved children.

His oldest daughter and youngest son were in the vehicle with him. Daughter Ashley suffered a serious wrist injury. About three months after Kash Johnson died, doctors started talking about a bone transplant. And it turned out that some of Kash's bone was still available.

Six months after the accident, her dad's bone was placed in Ashley's wrist. "He did not donate this for us," said Michelle Johnson. "It was for others. But I know he would be pleased."

Organ donation depends on awareness. Kash Johnson knew about the need because he helped transport hearts and other organs for life-saving surgeries. His wife hopes his story tells others of the need.

That is the thinking behind putting the "Donate Life" box in obituaries, said Alex McDonald, director of public education for Intermountain Donor Services.

Just as an American flag symbol can be included in an obituary to honor military service to country or the cross symbol to emphasize Christian faith, the donor symbol can be used to tell both of need for organs and about the person who died.

Michelle Johnson, who helped launch the symbol during a press conference last week, couldn't be happier that Kash is being featured in advertisements about the symbol.

"He was a veteran so we had a flag on his obituary," she said. "I wish we'd had this. This is a guy who wanted to keep sharing and did. Now he'll be their poster child and I think he'd be thrilled with that."

McDonald said all Utah newspapers offer the icon now, some at no cost, while others charge extra. Intermountain Donor Services plans to pick up that cost for families who choose to put the symbol in a donor's obituary.

E-mail: lois@desnews.com