On top of the shock and grief of her son’s shooting death, Dorothy Chissell faced a difficult decision last week when it became clear Shelby Holmes would not survive his injuries.
Chissell had gone back and forth about whether to donate Holmes’ organs. Her mind was made up when she discovered, while going through his belongings, that her son had been giving to the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
“He was a giver, and I knew it would be fine with him,” Chissell said. “My son has passed away, but look how he’s still doing good.”
For Doug Cossman, a long-time friend of Holmes, it was a life-changing decision.
Cossman, 57, received Holmes’ right kidney Saturday in a transplant that promises to end his days of dialysis.
“There’s no doubt in my mind — or anybody’s mind — that this kidney won’t fail,” Cossman said by phone Monday night. “It came from Shelby, and there’s just no way for that to happen.”
Holmes was shot several times Oct. 21 while walking home along Braddock Street in Baton Rouge.
No suspects have been named and police have not pinpointed a motive in the killing.
Holmes, 38, was well-known in Baton Rouge as a McKinley High School football statistician and die-hard fan of the LSU Tigers, who remembered him with a moment of silence before Saturday’s game against Furman.
It was through rooting for LSU baseball that he and Cossman first got to know each other in the early 1990s.
“It’s kind of surreal,” Cossman said. “The greatest thing about it is that the places we went, he’s still going to be able to go. He’s still going to go tailgate at baseball games.”
The transplant capped an emotional week for Holmes’ friends and family. Carl Dunn, a friend of Holmes, called the development a silver lining.
“You hate losing people,” he said, “but it’s good to see something good happen out of a tragedy.”
Steve Gibson, who worked with Holmes in the box office at the River Center, said news of the transplant lifted a pall of sadness.
“It just turned the whole thing around,” Gibson said.
“Everybody here was having problems with it, having their moments where it was just as bad as it could get and you’d have to go off by yourself and cry a little bit.”
Gibson said the donation was a final act of kindness befitting Holmes’ personality.
“If somebody needed something, he certainly would not have been slow to offer his help with anything,” he added.
“If Shelby knew he wasn’t going to need (his organs) anymore, he would probably say, ‘Take whatever you can use.’ ”
Cossman has suffered from polycystic kidney disease, a condition that wasn’t life-threatening but required he undergo regular dialysis.
“Days of dialysis were difficult but not impossible,” he said. “If you take care of yourself doing the proper things on dialysis, you can live a relatively full life. Eventually there will be problems and it will shorten your life.”
Cossman and his wife, Pam, wanted to help Holmes’ family in their time of need last week and set out to open a bank account to help cover expenses related to the untimely death.
Chissell met with Pam Cossman as she was opening the account after hours and at some point mentioned her plan to donate her son’s organs.
When Pam Cossman told Chissell about her husband’s need, she told officials at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center that she had a friend on the waiting list for a new kidney.
On Thursday evening, Doug Cossman received a call from the hospital seeking permission to check his medical records at a New Orleans hospital.
The next day, Cossman said, he received word of the match and was told late Friday to go to the hospital.
“It just all fell together,” he said, adding he felt fine Sunday morning. “I have a hard time telling the story without getting emotional.”
Doug Cossman and Chissell said they have heard Holmes’ liver also has been transplanted. Kirsten Heintz, a spokeswoman for the Louisiana Organ Procurement Agency, said she could not comment on specifics, citing privacy requirements under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.
Cossman, who works at Brew-Bacher’s Grill on Government Street and puts on the Spanish Town Mardi Gras Ball, said friends have joked with him that he’ll be dressing better and smiling more frequently now that Holmes is a part of him.
“The main thing is that I just want to carry on the legacy of this guy,” Cossman said. “Whether he knew it or not, he was touching you whenever he was around you.”