Giving life after death: Slain delivery driver donates organs

Teresa Gardner in her backyard. The flower beds were projects she did with her son last summer.
Teresa Gardner in her backyard. The flower beds were projects she did with her son last summer.

NORTH CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - The gift of life. It was in a garden in the backyard of his mother's house where Maralieus Birdsong got his first lesson. Teresa Gardner and her son planted half of their garden in the summer of 2011. This year, they had bigger plans for the flower bed. Just mother and son.

But life is fragile.

"I'm still in a big denial phase," said Gardner. "I still expect to see him coming through the door any second, 'Hey Mama.' It is just not going to happen."

It won't happen because of what transpired the night of March 9. While out delivering a pizza order Birdsong was shot once in the head at the Appain Way apartment complex off Patriot Boulevard.

"I miss him," said Gardner, three weeks later in her living room. "I miss him."

In the days after his death, Gardner found her way back to their garden.

Life didn't stop.

But for seven people life was beginning, again, because of a decision her 20-year-old son made on his own.

"When he went to go get his license and came back he said look mom I got my license," said Gardner. "He had put organ donation on there so I was really ecstatic about that. It was a pleasant surprise."

But Gardner never thought he'd be in a situation where he would become a donor. After Birdsong was officially pronounced dead in the afternoon hours of March 10, his mother honored his wishes.

His usable organs were donated. Six of them including his heart, liver and tissues stayed in South Carolina. His right kidney was shipped immediately to Indiana to save his cousin Robert, who was waiting on the transplant list.

"About a year ago his kidney's stopped working," said Gardner, talking about Robert. "They didn't know if he was going to make it or not. He said it's a very emotional, overwhelming roller coaster. It's like 'yeah, I got my kidney and then, oh, my cousin is gone."

Gardner says her son saved his cousin's life and up to seven others.

"With Maralieus being so generous and being unselfish with his organs, seven more people can now live a healthy life. He's gone but through them he can live on," she said. "I just think there's no greater gift."


Before Robert received the kidney of his 20-year-old cousin, others in his family also were given another chance to live from donors.

"Louis Byron Russell is my uncle and he was the first living heart transplant patient," said Gardner. "Then my Uncle Paul came seven to ten years after that and he received a heart so we are a very big organ donation family."

According to medical records, Russell was the 34th person in medical history to receive a heart transplant.

The website of an elementary school that was named after him in Indianapolis, Indiana says, "Russell lived for six years with his new heart, longer than any previous heart transplant recipient.  He died in November 1974 in the same hospital where he received his heart."

Gardner says her uncle got his heart from a 17-year-old boy in 1968. The circumstances around the teens death was eerily similar to the way her son was killed.

Gardner says the teen was shot in the head in a crowd of people after a basketball game.


According to affidavits and incident reports provided, Birdsong was delivering pizza to an apartment on Patriot Drive around 8:12 p.m. for a person named "Tre." When Birdsong arrived, the resident of the home said that no order of food was placed but a person named "Tre" lived at another apartment.

North Charleston Police say Birdsong then returned to his vehicle at which time he was shot one time in the head.

Police charged 17-year-old Jontae Davis and 18-year-old Stephawn Brown for the murder and armed robbery of Birdsong.

Authorities say Brown was found hiding in the back of his mother's car close to the crime scene in the Appian Way apartment complex in Dorchester County. Investigators say they found a cell phone in Brown's possession that was used to place the $38 delivery order to Domino's Pizza, where Birdsong worked.

On Saturday, investigators say they searched Brown's home and found pizza from Domino's in the kitchen and in Brown's bedroom dresser drawer.

According to investigators, Davis turned himself to police four days after the crime. According to an affidavit, Davis called a witness just after the incident and said Brown shot Birdsong in the head "execution style" during the robbery.

Investigators are awaiting the results of a ballistics test of the gun found at the suspect's apartment. Prosecuting attorney Russell Hilton says Davis gave police a statement saying co-defendant Brown shot the victim, but they were together at the time of the shooting.


Gardner says she's been telling people about her son's last act of donating his organs and she's gotten a response she wasn't expected.

Because of the news, Gardner says at least 20 people she knows, family and friends, are planning on visiting the Department of Motor Vehicles in the coming weeks and changing their driver's licenses' so they are organ donors.

"He touched a lot of lives," said Gardner. "He made a difference while he was here and he'll continue to make a difference."

There are more than 1,000 people waiting on transplants here in South Carolina. To find out more information on organ donation in the Palmetto State visit organ and tissue donation service, LifePoint's website.

Gardner said she will continue to advocate for organ donation for the rest of her life.

"To give organs from somebody who can't use them to someone who needs them and it can absolutely change their life, that is just awesome," she said walking through the garden in her backyard.

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