Family shares plane-crash victim’s last gift

South Surrey woman helped eight organ recipients posthumously

Recent photo of Lauren Sewell

Less than a week after Lauren Sewell suffered fatal injuries in a plane crash near Kelowna, her mother had a dream.

Last Sunday, Fran Sewell said she saw Lauren standing beside her while she slept, reassuring her mother that she and her boyfriend, Dallas Smith, didn’t suffer.

“Mom, it was just a bump,” Lauren said. “And when all the lights came on, I was with Dallas. We’re OK.”

It was, according to family and friends, very much in character for the South Surrey native, an athletic 24-year-old who is remembered as a generous, caring person who possessed a calm confidence that was reassuring to be around.

Her father, Greg Sewell, says Lauren had made some “pretty bold moves” to change her life in 2011, quitting a good job to go back to school and upgrade her education, even temporarily moving back in with her parents while she studied, before returning to Vancouver about five months ago.

She planned a career in human resources, a good fit for someone known for both her organizational skills and personal warmth.

“She radiated confidence and love,” her father said.

She recently become involved with Smith, and the two seemed very much in love, he said.

The pair died after a four-seat Piper Twin Commanche crashed 30 kilometres west of Kelowna on Aug. 13, while flying back to Boundary Bay airport in Delta.

Smith was pronounced dead at the scene; Sewell died in hospital.

For her father, the first inkling that something was wrong came when Lauren was late for her mother’s birthday and didn’t call. Then he saw a television news report about a small plane crashing.

He knew that Lauren was flying back with Dallas and two others, a 25-year-old woman and 35-year-old man who both had pilot’s licences.

Lauren, who was known for her generosity, had purchased flying lessons for Dallas for his 30th birthday. It’s still not clear if the Monday flight was for training.

When the Sewell family learned that Lauren had been on the plane but was still alive, they drove to Kelowna, where a neurosurgeon told them she had suffered “unsurvivable” brain injuries from the impact.

At the suggestion of the surgeon and with the approval of her family, Lauren became an organ donor.

At least eight people benefitted, her father said.

One person received both her lungs, another her heart. Two others regained their vision.

On the day the donations were made, Aug. 15, the Sewell family visited the crash site.

There, Transportation Safety Board investigators told them the aircraft landing gear had not been lowered, a clue that the plane wasn’t trying to make a landing when the crash took place.

The day of the crash was very hot and there was a lot of smoke in the air, Greg Sewell said.

The family left some flowers and said some prayers.

Greg Sewell described it as a “sombre and serene” scene.

Under the rules governing transplants in B.C., the family of a donor has to wait a year before any contact with the recipients is possible.

But Greg Sewell has already heard, indirectly, from one.

A friend had told him about talking to a man whose daughter has just received a life-saving transplant and is convinced that the donation came from Lauren.

The Sewell family has not heard directly from the man, yet.

As well as her parents, Lauren Patricia Sewell is survived by older sisters Justine Billon and Robyn  Billon.

A celebration of her life is scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 25 at the Valley View funeral home at 2 p.m. at 14660 72 Ave.

In lieu of flowers, the family is asking that donations be made to the Peace Arch Hospital and Community Health foundation, where a fund has been set up in Lauren’s name.

Services for Dallas Smith are scheduled for Friday, Aug. 24 at Victory Memorial Park funeral centre at 1 p.m. at 14831 28 Ave.  A trust fund has been set up for Smith’s mother at Coast Capital Savings branches.

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