WALNUT CREEK -- As Karen Youngstrom drove into the John Muir Medical Center parking lot Friday, she flashed back 19 months to the day she was driven to the hospital in a squad car, knowing very little about the condition of her husband, a mortally wounded California Highway Patrol officer.
It was her first time back since Sept. 4, 2012, the day a software engineer inexplicably shot her husband, Kenyon Youngstrom, during a routine traffic stop on Interstate 680 in Alamo. While difficult, the young widow wanted to take a step in her healing process and lobby for organ donation during a ceremonial flag raising Friday at the Walnut Creek hospital.
"There are a lot of memories coming back here," Youngstrom said Friday, shortly after she gave a brief speech to a small gathering huddled under a tent as a soft rain fell. "It's a nice memory to add to the memory bank. It feels like a victory to be able to come back."
Kenyon Youngstrom's organs saved four lives. A woman received his pancreas and one of his kidneys, a 50-year-old Southern California father of four received his heart, one Bay Area woman received his liver, and another, who had been on the waiting list for a decade, received his other kidney, according to the California Transplant Donor Network.
"I have an idea of where they've gone," said Youngstrom, who visits her husband's grave on the fourth day of every month. "I'm hoping to meet (the recipients) in the future, when all of us are strong enough."
In honor of National Donate Life Month, the Cordelia mother of four helped raise a donor flag at John Muir. CHP Officer Shaun Bouyen watched and recalled the tragic day when he escorted Karen Youngstrom through her toughest hours.
"It's still as real today as it was 19 months ago," he said. "We mourn his loss, but still it's nice he was able to help other people."
Kenyon Youngstrom's colleagues in the CHP's Martinez office have memorialized his locker, draping a flag over it. Bouyen drives past the shooting scene a few times each week; a flag and cross have been erected there.
"It's still tough," he said.
Kenyon Youngstrom's twin brother, Clinton, attended Friday's ceremonies, also his first time back since the shooting.
"I'm really proud of Kenyon and what he did, and I'm glad he was able to save four people's lives," the Riverside resident said.
Karen Youngstrom said she is thankful to Herculean efforts made by civilians, law enforcement and doctors to keep her husband's heart beating long enough to allow him to donate his organs. She stressed the importance of loved ones sharing their final wishes, because her husband's clear message made the decision easier.
"It's hard having someone lay there when they look perfectly fine, but medically you know they can't make it," Bouyen said. "So letting your family know what you want to do in advance makes it so much easier to let go."
It has been difficult since her husband's death, but his widow said the family has received help from the community.
"Every day is an adjustment," Karen Youngstrom said. "We talk about moving forward, but never forgetting."
Alex Youngstrom, the fallen officer's oldest son, has started college and just switched his major to communications, his mother said.
He plans to enroll in the CHP Academy.
Contact Matthias Gafni at 925-952-5026. Follow him at Twitter.com/mgafni.
To sign up as an organ donor visit www.donateLIFEcalifornia.org. There are 20,000 people in California waiting for organs, according to the California Transplant Donor Network.