Loved ones of 19-year-old Connor Eckhardt, from right, his mother Veronica Eckhardt, aunt Terri Mehrguth, sister Sabrina Eckhardt, 18, father Devin Eckhardt and close friend Jaclyn Westfall, 20, look on as a helicopter carrying Connor's heart flies off from Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach on Thursday. (KEVIN CHANG, Daily Pilot / July 17, 2014)

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"Dad and I are going to fight what took life away too young," his mother vowed in the hospital room at Hoag.

At 3 p.m. his sister Sabrina, just one year younger than Connor, sat in chair close to her brother.

Five-year-old Ashnika, their third sibling, adopted from Ethiopia, had discovered the Purell dispenser. Her white sandals squeaked on the linoleum floor as she moved from person to person, smothering the sanitizer on their hands.

At 3:15 p.m., Devin scooped up the energetic child in her bright green dress, telling her, "I need a hug from you."

Soon, she would be giving Connor a kiss goodbye.

The other relatives began to gather their belongings. His maternal grandparents bid farewell, stroking his head, then his aunt and uncle, who took Ashnika from the room, spent one last moment with their nephew.

A nurse announced the helicopters that would take away Connor's organs would be landing in 15 minutes.

The room cleared out, but Ashnika and her aunt returned. The 5-year-old had forgotten to tell her big brother something. Her aunt held her close to his head.

"I love you Connor," she said.


Cautionary tale placed on video

In their last minutes with their son, Connor's mom, dad, sister and close friend filmed a video about the danger of spice.

"This is our son, Connor Reid Echhardt," Veronica began, speaking in a strained voice.

She continued, "He made the deadly choice to use a product called K2, or spice, and Connor is completely brain dead. [...] This is not a game, it is totally real, please help us fight his fight."

After the family took a moment for a private goodbye, a "transport team" moved Connor from the ICU, through the hospital's hallways operating room. His family followed in close procession, right up to the operating room doors. That was as far as they were allowed to go, telling him one last time that they loved him, before his heart, liver, kidneys, and pancreas would be removed.

Then it would be up to the surgical teams, which usually arrive separately by helicopter for each organ donated. That way, a donor's gifts can be rushed away as soon as possible, often packed in a cooler with a cold, saline slush.

As the first group prepared for their work, a prayer from the family would be read. It began: "Thank you, Lord Jesus, for giving us Connor for 19 years. He is the most amazing person. He has left his imprint on the lives of so many people. He loved you with all his heart."

Hours later, around 8 p.m., a helicopter departed with that very organ.