INDIANAPOLIS — A solemn crowd of Riley Hospital for Children employees lined the halls of the pediatric intensive care unit on Wednesday afternoon. Their purpose — to give a silent tribute to a 7-year-old girl about to give the gift of life to others.
A purple superhero cape stitched with a unicorn lay draped over Zahmira Austin as a team of doctors and nurses wheeled the little girl from her room on the seventh floor to the elevators where she would be taken down to an operating room.
The ceremony, known as an honor walk, celebrated the last moments of Zahmira's life before surgeons removed her organs in preparation for donation to other patients in need.
"She liked unicorns and rainbows and makeup and dress-up clothes and princesses and her little sister and her Hula Hoop," Tiffany McIntyre, Zahmira's mom told IU Health. "She was a great kid."
Zahmira, an Indianapolis first-grader, was injured in a tragic accident at home.
Over the next several days, the family prayed the little girl would recover, but an MRI revealed that her brain had been without oxygen for too long.
"When I visited with the family earlier, they were hoping and praying their daughter would recover," Riley Chaplain Josh Coolman said. "But if she wasn't going to survive, they knew they wanted to donate her organs."
It was the family's wish to donate Zahmira's organs even before representatives of the Indiana Donor Network approached them, Coolman said.
"It was important for mom to have family with her and to acknowledge in the midst of this heartbreak that the gift of life would be given to other children," Coolman said.
Zahmira had a way of bringing people together in life and in death.
"She was amazing. She loved everybody, she was forgiving, and she had a heart of gold," McIntyre said. "Everybody was her friend, it didn't matter if she just met you. And she adopted everybody as family even if they were not related."
In her final message to those gathered for the honor walk, McIntyre honored her daughter.
"She was always our hero," she said. "Today she gets to be someone else's."