A 42-year-old man who fell from a grain truck in southern Minnesota and suffered grave head injuries became a lifesaving organ donor thanks to his oldest son's swift response at the scene of the accident.

Eric W. Howard of Wykoff, Minn., was in Mayo Clinic Hospital, Saint Marys Campus, on Wednesday for recovery of several vital organs, said his wife, Chris Howard.

Howard fell some time before 9:40 a.m. Saturday from a semitrailer truck's ladder while loading corn north of Spring Valley, according to the Fillmore County Sheriff's Office. Two of Howard's four sons, 19-year-old Luke and 14-year-old Seth, found their father after he fell, said Chris Howard.

"Seth went to the end of the driveway to meet the ambulance and show them where Eric was," she said Wednesday while waiting nearby as the organ recovery process was underway. "Luke stayed with Eric, and when he stopped breathing, [Luke] gave CPR.

"The neurologist said that we would probably never have been able to donate or spend a few more days saying goodbye to Eric if Lucas had not performed CPR." Luke learned CPR in health class during 10th grade at Kingsland High School in Spring Valley.

"I think it is important people know that someday they could be in an emergency situation and can literally be the difference between life and death," Chris Howard said. "When he took that class, he never thought he'd use it. [CPR] didn't save Eric's life, but it saved other lives through his gifts."

The hospital flew an organ donation flag Wednesday just below the American flag in honor of Eric Howard.

"With any sort of injury, the sooner the better when it comes to CPR," said Alicia Miller, LifeSource's advanced practice donation coordinator in Minneapolis. "What is best for the patient is still best for the patient should they become a donor."

Depending on the nature of the injuries, doctors look to recover a donor's heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, pancreas and intestines, Miller said. From there, Miller added, eyes and dozens of soft tissues are also considered for donation. Up to 75 people can potentially benefit from a single donor.

Among the solid organs, the list of transplant hopefuls is by far longest for kidneys, she said. "They are always the most in demand. The other lists are also quite long. The need out there is great."

As of Wednesday, according to LifeSource, more than 107,000 people nationwide are awaiting an organ transplant, with the need for a kidney accounting for nearly 85% of that total. In Minnesota, there are more than 2,500 people on a transplant waiting list, with about 83% of the total needing a kidney. Once a family signs off on organ recovery, the process typically takes about 24 to 48 hours, Miller said. Then the organs are delivered as quickly as possible to recipients most in need, whether the destination is in the same community or across the country.

"We will try to get the sickest patient transplanted first," she said. From the hospital Wednesday afternoon, Chris Howard said, "One of the hardest parts of waiting [is] wondering if something would happen that would impact his ability to donate one of the organs. We couldn't help Eric, so we wanted to give as much help to as many people as we possibly could."

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482