Breaking News
More () »

'Not just a statistic': Drowning victim helping dozens with organ donation, mother fighting for change

Even during her time of grief, Lisa MacDonald is working to raise awareness about getting lifeguards on South Haven's beaches following her daughter's death.

SOUTH HAVEN, Mich. — A woman who lost her daughter to a drowning in South Haven earlier this summer, is honoring her memory through beach safety awareness, saying she won't let her daughter just become a statistic. 

The young victim is also now giving back even after her death, through organ donation. 

19-year-old Emily MacDonald and her boyfriend, 22-year-old Kory Ernster, drowned at South Haven's South Beach on August 8.

"We're going to work hard at making Kory and Emily's lives mean something, so that no one else ever has to go through what I've had to go through," said Emily's mother, Lisa MacDonald. 

The couple, from the east side of the state, Novi, and Columbus Township, had been dating for five years, and were on vacation with Ernster's family. 

They were pulled from Lake Michigan by other beach-goers who attempted CPR before first-responders arrived. Both were taken to the hospital where they later died. 

"They're not just another number," said MacDonald, "they are two young people that had their whole lives ahead of them, and it was taken away in just a matter of minutes."

Even during her time of grief, MacDonald is working to raise awareness about getting lifeguards on South Haven's beaches. She said that is her goal, especially now that she's learning that safety there has been an issue for many years.

"Once the shock wore off a little bit, I found this whole thing about how the lifeguard issue has been an problem for 10 years or more," said MacDonald. 

Lisa has created a Facebook page called "SAVE LIVES...HIRE LIFEGUARDS." She said her goal is to use it to bring attention to the need for lifeguards in South Haven. 

"Whatever I can do to make as much noise as possible, and to get people to stand up and listen," MacDonald said. 

"I'll never know if that would've happened if there was a lifeguard," she added, "but I just truly feel that from all the research and all the outpouring of letters that I've received, my daughter would probably still be here if there were lifeguards on that beach."

Emily and Kory were the 32nd and 33rd drowning victims in Lake Michigan this year. In South Haven, they were the third and fourth just this summer. 

MacDonald lost her husband unexpectedly 12 years ago, and was diagnosed with MS six years later, so she said she knows what it means to turn pain into power. 

"If someone can learn something or gain something from what I've been through, I almost feel like it's my responsibility," she said. "Nothing will bring our kids back, but if we can save one person, that's what matters."

And Emily's memory will live on in others, too, as an organ donor. Something Lisa said she chose to do as soon as she got her license. 

"When they first called, it was kind of hard to let somebody take apart your child," she said. 

Just the other day, two people were been given Emily's corneas. 

"She gave two people the gift of sight," MacDonald said, "and they harvested bones to use them to help some children with birth defects."

Lisa also said her muscles, heart tissue, and other things will be able to be donated, and doctors estimate she'll be able to help up to 75 people. 

"It helps me a little bit knowing there's someone out there with her corneas, her bones, with her whatever," said MacDonald, "and that they're able to continue to have a life."

"Of course I'd rather her be here," she added, "but she was a giver and I'm very proud of her."

To learn more about Lisa MacDonald's mission in honor of Emily, you can visit her Facebook page by clicking here

Make it easy to keep up to date with more stories like this. Download the 13 ON YOUR SIDE app now.

Have a news tip? Email news@13onyourside.com, visit our Facebook page or Twitter. Subscribe to our YouTube channel.

Before You Leave, Check This Out