NEWTON - Joey Gase was introduced to the results of one of the toughest decisions he ever made.
The 19-year-old race car driver from Cedar Rapids finalized the decision to donate organs of his late mother, Mary Jo Gase, when she died after a brain aneurysm last year. Sixteen months after that day, Gase and his younger sister, Ashley, came face-to-face with one of the people who gained from the Gase's loss.
Members of the Gase family met 25-year-old Jordan Shaw, who received a kidney transplant from Mary Jo Gase, before qualifying of the NASCAR Nationwide Series US Cellular 250 Saturday at Iowa Speedway.
Shaw, from Omaha, Neb., shared hugs with Joey and Ashley Gase and his appreciation for their action to go ahead with their mom's decision to donate. The meeting is also therapeutic for Gase, who is racing Go Green Racing's car sponsored by the Iowa Donor Network.
“I’m really glad I was able to meet him,” said Gase, noting his sister’s participation also. “I think it’s really helped us both get passed all that. Just know that mom is still living out there in different ways.”
Shaw expressed his gratitude, admitting he may not have had the strength the older Gase, who was 18 at the time, had to sign papers for the donation. He wrote a letter to the Gase family in May 2011, sharing his story and updating them on his progress. He received a call Wednesday about the invitation to this weekend's race and didn't hesitate to accept.
"Ever since my transplant I couldn't put a face to life," Shaw told the Gases. "Now, I can thank you and your family for that."
Shaw was diagnosed with cancer at age 2, and the disease killed one of his kidneys immediately. He was cancer free by 6 years old, but ten years later he suffered problems due to car tissue in the other kidney, leading to the first kidney transplant. Problems arose and Shaw wound up on the transplant list again five years ago. He received dialysis up to three times a week over the last 11 months.
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“You can’t say thank you enough,” Shaw said. “It gives you a whole new respect for life. You don’t really know how bad you feel until you start feeling better.”
Gase admitted Friday that he could have second thoughts on the meeting. He displayed a strong, calm and collected demeanor that many associate with the young race car driver. After awhile, Shaw mentioned it was OK for him to show emotion, resulting in another hug and tears from Gase.
“It was emotional but really good to be able to meet him,” Gase said. “He seems like a really good kid. He really wants to help others. It’s awesome to see that my mom could help people like that.”
The meeting assured Gase he made the right decision, and that he is proud his mom was able to help Shaw and others to live a normal life because she remained healthy. He also has gained another fan of his racing career, as Shaw accompanied Gase to the garage getting an up-close view of his car and a trip to tech inspection.
“It’s a weight off my shoulders,” Shaw said. “It had been a long time coming.
“I’m really glad I got this opportunity to meet Joey and his family. It’s the perfect Saturday.”