In death, fallen officer saves lives

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Grand Junction, Colorado (CNN)Alan Bronson looked at the image of Deputy Derek Geer on his television. The official Mesa County Sheriff's Department photo showed a deputy with broad shoulders, stocky frame and the hint of a smile. Bronson pulled himself up on the hospital bed, listening to the news anchor.

Deputy Derek Geer.
Age 40.
    Shot multiple times.
    On life support.
    Devoted husband, father of two.
    "Maybe he's the donor," said Bronson's wife, Kim Farrell. The weekslong wait for a heart wore on Farrell. The left ventricle of Bronson's heart was down to pumping at 5%. For weeks, machines had been keeping her 54-year-old husband alive.
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    Geer looked like he might be about Bronson's size, a key component for a successful donor match.
    Bronson shook his head, as he heard the news anchor announce the deputy was married and had two children. He watched the footage of nearby Grand Junction, Colorado, residents beginning to grieve near the snowy street corner where the officer was gunned down.
    Waiting on the transplant list, Bronson questioned himself daily. Is today the time to go? Am I deserving of an organ? Should somebody else get it instead of me?
    As Bronson looked at the deputy's picture, he uttered one wish to his wife.
    "I hope it's not him."

    'Officer down'

    At 11:06 a.m., dispatch radioed Mesa County deputies and said a man was walking past an office building holding a black handgun under his armpit. Eight minutes later, Geer's voice called out over the county radio traffic. One minute later, Geer said, "Taser." The man the deputy was confronting could be heard screaming in the background.
    That suspect was Austin Holzer, 17, reacting as Geer tased him. Holzer, according to arrest records, was a runaway with an active warrant for an unspecified sex offense.
    Another minute, and another deputy radioed in. "Shots fired."
    Mesa County Sheriff Matt Lewis was in a meeting at the sheriff's department. Lewis had been in the elected job only a year and a half, heading an agency where he'd worked for 20 years. Lewis knew every one of the 150 sworn officers, many of them his peers, whose families he knew personally.
    A knock at his door and then the words that had not been uttered since 1906 in Grand Junction. "An officer has been shot."
    Lewis flipped on the radio.
    "I have an officer down, wound to the face, bleeding heavily." The voice on the radio was winded, the agony apparent in every word.
    "CPR started. I don't have a pulse."
    Approximately three minutes after the initial "officer down" call, the voice said,"No pulse at this time. Officer down."
    On the other side of Grand Junction, Kate Geer sighed as she looked at the clock. The training session on standardized testing seemed to drag on and on.
    A woman from the school district knocked on the door to the room. Geer, a school assessment coordinator, immediately assumed the woman was interrupting the session to tell her about a misbehaving student. She taught students with challenges and was accustomed to district employees knocking on her door. "Which student now," she wondered.
    Two men were in the hallway. The men, not in uniform, identified themselves as Mesa County Sheriff's employees.
    She went numb.
    She remembers being driven to St. Mary's Medical Center, the highest-level trauma center in Grand Junction. She tried to text, but her fingers kept shaking. She managed to text her husband's parents, "Just start driving to St. Mary's."
    In the emergency room, a flood of brown sheriff's uniforms met her. The officers had been listening to the radio calls and rushed to the ER, hoping the calls were panicked radio banter.
    Geer walked into the area where her husband was being treated. Two friends were holding her as she walked, fearing she would collapse.
    "Talk to him," her friend, Heather, told her.
    Her husband of 15 years lay on the bed, tubes entering his stocky body. Doctors told her he was on life support.
    "Talk to him a little bit," urged Heather again.
    Kate tried. But she knew.
    She looked at the father of her two children, the Navy sailor she met shortly after college, who so captured her heart at age 25 that they married just four months after their first blind date.
    "I said goodbye that night, and I didn't go back," she said. "In my heart, I knew he was gone."

    A caring husband and proud son

    Derek Geer never wore his wedding band while on patrol. At the beginning of each shift, he took off his ring and put it in his locker.
    Some wives might get suspicious: Geer worked in a profession that demanded long shifts on the streets. But Kate knew why her husband removed his ring.
    "He's just a protector, a natural protector." If a suspect saw Geer's ring, he feared that knowledge would somehow endanger his two children and wife.
    That instinct to protect his loved ones was something Derek Geer had even as a child, said his mother, Sandra Geer. A military family, the Geers moved often. In elementary school, the Geers were astonished when the principal called them after Derek was in a schoolyard fight. That shock disappeared when they learned Derek was protecting a boy with Down syndrome who was being bullied.
    "That's just the kind of kid he was, always a soft spot for kids and people in crisis," said his mother. "He was humble. And just did the right thing, not necessarily asking for any credit."
    "Not only was he my son, he was my companion," said David Geer of his only child. His son had a favorite saying, he said. "There's the sheep. There's the wolves. He's the sheep dog. He'd say, 'I'm the one in between the wolves and sheep.'"
    After graduating from high school, Derek Geer enlisted in the Navy, the fifth generation of Geer men to join the service. Three months shy of his honorable discharge from active duty in 1999, a friend set him up on a blind date with Kate.
    A few days after that date, they were at a barbecue with friends, laughing. Kate and Derek, flirtatious from the start, began roughhousing. Kate smacked her head on a coffee table, with Derek later proclaiming he knocked the sense out of her. That's how, he claimed, he persuaded Kate to marry him four months later.
    "And I wasn't even pregnant," Kate said with a laugh.
    Kate didn't intend to marry a cop. Derek planned to work with aircraft, as he did in the U.S. Navy. But a conversation with a recruiter convinced him policing would be the proper fit for a career. "He didn't sign up to be a cop to go out and be Rambo. He's never been like that. He wanted to help our community."
    "He wanted to help our community," Kate Geer says of her husband.

    A lasting impression

    The job suited Geer, especially when it came to saving lives.
    "I remember saying, 'I can't breathe and I'm going to pass out,'" said Ann Jacobs. It was April 15, 2012, around 9 p.m. Jacobs had been suffering from a string of allergy attacks at home, but on that night, the attacks rapidly escalated.
    "I remember leaning towards my husband. That's the last thing I remember." Jacobs' husband called 911, saying his wife had stopped breathing.
    "Derek Geer was the officer that was called to my house. He came in and performed CPR on me and got me breathing. I'm standing here because of Derek Geer. He brought me back to life."
    Saving lives was just a part of policing for Geer. Much of his job dealt with people on the other side of the law. Even then, the deputy managed to win over the suspects he arrested.
    Three inmates from Sterling Correctional Facility, a Colorado state prison, sent Kate Geer a sympathy card as the news spread about her husband's death. One of the inmates sent her a letter about her husband. Through a friend, the inmate wrote, "Derek believed in him when other people didn't. Derek was a right-hearted man who made a difference in his life. Derek was the best cop he knew."
    Derek Geer had two young children.
    Geer also enjoyed spending time with children and teaching them about law enforcement. The one drawback in the job was the hours, the long overnight shifts or extra hours required in public safety.
    "He didn't sign up for a lot of overtime. He wanted to stay home," said Kate. Their children, Ian, 13, and Macey, 11, adopted from China, "were his pride and joy. His proudest moments were becoming a family of three, then a family of four," she said.
    The couple agreed on nearly everything: parenting, traveling as a family, even hobbies. Their one disagreement was over organ donation.
    "It kinda creeped me out at first," said Kate. But Derek urged her to reconsider; teaching her about how many lives their organs could save should they die.
    Derek's doctors suggested keeping her husband alive for another two days so they could properly harvest his organs. They would eventually take Derek's heart, his liver and both kidneys, sending them across the region to the four top patients in need on the transplant list.
    Kate had removed her husband's wedding band from his locker, stringing a silver chain through the ring. He would be buried with a thin blue line on his finger. His wedding ring hovers right above her heart.
    "He always wanted to be an organ donor. He knew. It was never a question."

    The heart patient

    Alan Bronson doesn't have a history of heart disease in his family and considers himself healthy. When he caught a bad cold in 2008, he tried to shrug it off. But then his heart began to fail.
    Alan Bronson received Deputy Geer's heart.
    Doctors told him he had contracted a virus that was attacking his heart. They put him on powerful medication that helped him deal with the beginnings of congestive heart failure. The prognosis wasn't great, but Bronson adjusted to his new normal. That was until last May, when he made a mistake with his medicines, accidentally double dosing on one of his prescriptions. That single mistake with the pills sent his already frail heart into cardiac arrest.
    What followed were nearly 30 trips to the emergency room and months of surgeries. Doctors implanted a pacemaker with a defibrillator. When that ceased to work, Bronson's surgeon implanted a left ventricular assist device, or LVAD, a device for patients with advanced heart failure to help their hearts continue to pump blood.
    In January, a blood clot formed around Bronson's LVAD, sending him into the hospital indefinitely. Bronson was added to the organ transplant list for a heart.
    "I didn't know if it was time to call it quits and just pass on," said Bronson, remembering how he suffered through the painful surgeries.
    "If it wasn't for my sons talking to me and telling me that they still needed me," his voice trailing off at the memory. "Anyway, I carried on."
    Living on the organ transplant list simply meant waiting. Bronson joined more than 120,000 people waiting for lifesaving organ transplants in the country. According to Donate Life America, someone is added to the national transplant waiting list every 10 minutes. Twenty-two people die every day while waiting for a lifesaving transplant.
    Then February 10 came.
    Honoring Deputy Geer

    A scholarship has been established in honor of Deputy Derek Geer. The Derek Geer Memorial Scholarship Fund is "intended to provide financial support to a newly graduating academy student who embodies the dedication, compassion and spirit of Geer."

    Doctors told Bronson a suitable heart, matching in size and blood type, and in proximity to Denver had been located.
    "I didn't want to know at the time," said Bronson, about who his heart donor might be. The timing of his donor and Geer's death certainly made him wonder, but he blocked out the image of Geer as he waited for the heart donation. "Mentally, I don't think I was prepared for it, to know (the donor). Somebody has to die for this to happen. That was the hardest part for me in accepting a donation like that."
    Months after the donation, Bronson received a letter from Kate Geer, confirming his suspicions about whose heart now beat in his chest.
    He's filled with gratitude but also a number of complicated emotions.
    "I'm sorry to his family," said Bronson, his eyes red and welling. "He gave so much. Then they gave the ultimate gift and I'm very appreciative of it. But I'm also a father of two children so I can imagine what those kids are going through."
    Bronson said as Geer protected his community, he will now cherish his donation. "Sometimes you wonder if you're worthy of it. I just know that I have to protect it."
    Geer's heart has made an immediate difference in Bronson's life. He's out of the hospital, walking and looking forward to years of independent living. Physically, he doesn't feel Geer in his body. But Bronson lightheartedly said he has an unusual new craving that never existed before. He never was a beer drinker but now craves the taste. Given his medical history, Bronson has picked up the habit of drinking nonalcoholic beer.
    Kate said her husband occasionally drank beer as a younger man in the Navy, but he didn't drink that often.
    Bronson and Kate have yet to meet. But she wanted him to know this: "You have the heart of the greatest man. His heart was big enough for anything."