Northwest-native John Wasson leaves a life-saving legacy through his gifts of organ and tissue donations

October 2020

By boat or beach, John loved to be near water.

John Wasson Jr., nicknamed “John-John” by his family, was the baby brother to three older siblings and the youngest child of Jean and John Wasson. He had Down Syndrome, and thanks to his mother, a lifelong education advocate, John attended a special education program at the University of Washington early in the program’s inception. This opportunity was the cornerstone of his education. John blossomed in school and continued to attend school until he was 21 years old – all around the country and even in England where the family was stationed during his father’s Navy career.

Awnie Thompson affectionately describes her little brother as “infinitely charming as he was annoying” – spoken like a true big sister. She shares an endearing story about John as a child. As with most young children, John was encouraged to sit in laps to settle and read stories. To John, this translated as the only place to sit, and he would choose a family member’s lap over the floor or furniture, which was the source of many giggles as he grew older.


John was a people person

John on a Seahawks game day!

Awnie recalls that John was a social butterfly, thriving in the company of others. From bowling to sporting events, he loved to be a part of the action. As an adult, John joined his brother at local bars to watch Seahawks games and experience the energy and excitement. Sometimes he’d cheer for the wrong team, but he was so happy, fans couldn’t be bothered!   

The Wassons were a boating family who spent much of their quality time on the water together. John loved to be on the family’s boat; thrilled to be anywhere near the water. This was a special activity he shared with his parents well into his adult life.

“He certainly had a mind of his own, there was no denying that.”

~Awnie, John’s sister

The path to the happiest place on Earth

John and his brother Ralph on a carousel in Seattle.

On a family outing to Seattle’s waterfront, John spotted the carousel at Miner’s Landing on Pier 57 and he was all smiles. Discovering this joy, his family continued to frequent local fairs and carnivals when the idea was born – Disneyland! A place where John could hop aboard any ride he desired. To commemorate this trip of a lifetime, Awnie gifted John with a Mickey Mouse hat, complete with floppy ears. She shares that John refused to wear it until he finally accepted the hat as his idea, then it was nearly impossible to get it off him! “He certainly had a mind of his own, there was no denying that,” recalls Awnie with a chuckle.

John, a hero

While John led a full life of love and adventure, he passed away unexpectedly at the age of 49. John gave the gift of life and sight through the donation of his kidneys, corneas and tissue. His lungs and liver were also donated to research, saving countless more lives in pursuit of health care advances.

“His passing was an accident, and it was hard to get past that,” says Awnie. “But the opportunity to choose donation for John helped to shift our focus and see the positive in this loss. He wasn’t able to really help people so directly in life, but he is the reason – the hero – to so many
people who get to go on living. That means something to us.”

Organ donation is a gift; a light after loss. Register your decision to be an organ donor, and share your wishes with your loved ones.