It was the last run of their first day on the slopes, the beginning of another great family vacation for Todd and Tara Storch and their three children. But when thirteen-year-old Taylor’s life was tragically cut short in a skiing accident, the Storches were overcome by the devastating loss of their daughter. Still in shock, they were asked a question no parents ever think they will hear: “Would you be willing to donate Taylor’s organs?”
Their answer would change their family’s lives forever and provide comfort during their darkest moments. It would also save the lives of five desperate people anxiously waiting for a heart, a liver, a cornea, a pancreas, and a kidney.
What follows is a candid conversation about how all of this transpired. It's raw. It's honest. It's real. What follows is a story of how God is continuing to heal a family.
John: I’m wondering if maybe you can give us a little bit of background information about who the Storch family is. You mentioned that you’re from Dallas. Give us kind of a breakdown: kids, where you guys are profession-wise, just a little snippet into your life.
Tara: Okay, I’ll start with that one. Looking into the Storch world, to me, Todd and I met at Texas A&M University, and we’ve been married 20 years. Moved to Coppell, Texas, mainly because of the school system, knowing that we were going to be starting a family at some point.
In ’96, Taylor was born, our first-born daughter. In ’98, came Ryan, and in 2000, came Peyton. We had them right in a row.
Todd: Girl, boy, girl.
Tara: Todd had always been in media, working in sales and radio stations. Then moved up the ladder there, being general manager of stations and then started getting into consulting. After he left the consulting side, he started working with media companies all over the nation, consulting for them with a company, a small company called Center for Sales Strategy.
I have always been a stay home mom since ‘96 doing little side businesses here and there to get some mad money and help with vacations. Main profession before all this happened was that I was a home stager where I did home decorating, interior design and the like for houses being sold.
When everything happened with Taylor, life really came to a halt. Todd and I really had this strong pull that this is what we need to be doing. It was almost like, I remember Todd sitting with me saying, “This is … I feel like if I don’t try to do this, then I’m going to be disobedient.” From there, we decided to make a career change and make this our life mission.
Todd: Tara, I mean, it’s crazy, thinking back and meeting at Texas A&M our sophomore years, and we started dating our senior year. She was just something special. We got engaged maybe nine months after we graduated. Thank goodness she said “yes” when I asked her to marry me.
The career thing? We are very much like a typical family. We thought we had it all figured out and Tara being a stay home mom, and that’s what we had always wanted for our family.
I began the career chain and working at big companies and trying to do what was best for the family. Sometimes you can look at life and get to the top of the ladder, or you’re climbing a ladder and you can look and realize that you’ve been climbing the wrong one. A lot of times we saw that and just tried to adapt with what was going on with our family.
Of course, with the biggest change in our lives, with the loss of Taylor, brought lots of intentional decisions that we had to face and brought lots of …
Todd: Lots of questions and …
Tara: About our purpose.
Todd: Really challenged our faith and strengthened our faith. That’s a little bit of a history. We could talk a lot about this for a long time, but I’m sure that you have questions.
John: Sure. Let’s talk a little bit about things before Taylor’s accident. As a family, structurally wise, how did you guys lead your family toward Christ? Were you active members in your church? What was that like and how did you participate in walking with Jesus?
Tara: You know, it’s always been our priority to put God first, family second and everything else third. That’s how we’ve lived our life. We really try to be an example for that in the kids and the fact of just really leading by example with our marriage. We knew that we are constant examples to our children, of what marriage should be like. Marriage is a holy sacrament that we have, and we are a living example to them of a beautiful, holy moment.
We’re very involved in our church, St. Anne’s Catholic Parish, very involved. We teach Sunday school, teach religious education. Todd’s been involved in lots of programs, been asked to sit on boards. We have our hands in church a lot, it’s our second family.
When everything happened, that really, oh gosh, just brought it all up. We’re so thankful we were surrounded by faith and surrounded by people who were going to walk with us no matter what. It’s very challenging. Todd had mentioned our faith was strengthened. We walked on this path differently, and the fact is, my faith was very shaken when all this happened. It wasn’t broken, but it was very shaken because ifs or whys roll around and just collapse you.
Back to your question about how we led our family, we had this beautiful rhythm going. We were the perfect five-piece puzzle. We had this perfect, we thought, great rhythm in our family and God was the center of it. Prayers have always been part of our children’s lives, always. Since they’ve been little, it has been part of their nightly routine. God is who we go to when we’re struggling, trying to remind them to keep their eyes on him and not of this world. It’s a challenge, it’s not easy, but we’re trying to do the best we can.
John: Let’s talk a little about the accident, and then I want to bring up this "shaken" part again. You guys were on a family vacation, is that correct?
Todd: Yeah. It was March of 2010, and it was our spring break. It was the first time we, as an entire family, had gone on a ski trip and we were on that ski trip vacation.
John: Then, there was an accident, obviously.
Todd: Yeah. We headed off to Beaver Creek and were just really excited about it. My son and I, Ryan, used to ski every year with a father-son group. I grew up skiing. Tara and I had gone a few times before we had kids. This was the first time we all went as a family.
We headed off on just a fantastic trip. We drove; we had a really long drive from Dallas to Colorado and were just having a fantastic time. It was a fun road trip, with a lot of neat things to look forward to. A client of mine was up there, and we got to stay there.
Our very first day on the slopes, we had everything planned out. Tara and Taylor and Peyton went to ski school. Taylor was just an unbelievable athlete, amazingly athletic—a volleyball player, which was her passion. They went to ski school and after we picked them up in the afternoon, we always remember the ski instructor said, “Taylor’s never skied before?” We’re like, “No, this is her first time.” “Well, I have to keep moving her out of the classes because she just skis circles around these kids.” She was skiing with these high school kids. Taylor’s face just beamed; she was just very excited. She was tall and athletic and really starting to develop as an eighth-grader, as a young woman.
Tara: I remember the ski instructor said, "You should’ve been skiing on greens and blues all day. Y’all are going to have a great time."
Todd: Oh, yeah… so, toward the end of the day, it was about 3:30 pm and we had about an hour left, and Taylor wanted to go up and ski. Ryan, my son, he can ski 24 hours a day. Me, Ryan and Taylor went up the slopes. Peyton, being the youngest, was really tired and exhausted, and Tara was pretty tired too from the long day. I told Tara, “We’ll meet you down at the resort at 4:40 pm,” or whatever time it was. I said, “We’ll be back in an hour.”
We went up and the kids planned a route down. Ryan just couldn’t wait to ski with his sister and Taylor was just beaming. We got all the way down to the final run before we came in. On that final run, it’s when Taylor lost control a little bit and I was right behind her and filming and taking pictures the way a dad would do. She went into the trees and from that accident, this eventually would cause her to pass away.
John: In that moment, what makes you cling to Christ all the more? How does someone in such a desperate situation look to Christ? Tara, you mentioned the fact that your faith was shaken. Describe your reaction in that moment.
Tara: The reaction in that moment is your panic and shock, and you beg, is what you do, for God to save your child. Todd and Ryan were both with Taylor when this happened, so not only are they dealing with grief, but they’re dealing with trauma. It’s a whole different level of shock … of how your body handles it… I just don’t think a human is meant to go through despair like this.
Your question of how you deal with something like that, how do you keep Christ in the center? Well, it completely throws you off. You feel like you have this complete strength, this, "I can go through anything. God is with me by my side." It’s really going good because everything in your life is going good. You feel like you have this great relationship with Christ and you’re walking along and it’s not a bumpy road. You feel good about everything. Then, this throws you off into the darkness and then you feel like you’re completely grasping.
How you deal with it is that you beg and you cry out to Him, and he doesn’t always answer your prayer. He didn’t answer our prayer—His answer to us was, “No.” When we begged him to save Taylor and he said, "No," then how do you deal with that? You deal with it with the only little faith that you have, and at that very moment, for me, it became very little. I was so shaken in my faith. I was very upset with the answer or … the question of “why?” Why in the world would God take our child?
It doesn’t make any sense, and this is something you have no control over. Before, I was happy; you do feel in control. I always felt I had this great rhythm with the kids. I was in control of their social, athletic and school schedules. Todd was in control of his work schedule, and when he was going to travel, we felt in control.
This is something that completely knocked the wind out of us—the fact that we had no control. That’s where you find your faith, because you realize you never had control from the beginning.
Todd: What we also felt blessed with is that our heads and our hearts were open enough to make the choice of faith because we all have it. Every single one of us have it. Tara and I grieved completely different as most families do, as most people do just because grief is just an individualized thing.
I will tell you that we are just so blessed that we had the wherewithal, the ability in that free will moment, to whether it was conscious or unconscious, to say, “You know what Lord, I’m going to follow you here.” We eventually got to the point at different times where it wasn’t a question of “why,” it became a question of, “why not.” There’s just some things we have to accept.
Tara: The keyword that I think came to us, John, was the word, “surrender.” We had to surrender it all over to Christ.
John: Obviously, when we read through Scripture, we see the patriarchs of faith certainly moving in that direction. As a follower of Christ in the here-and-now, to be called to do just that, that is a very hard transition. That’s certainly something that I’m hearing both of you guys say today.
Todd: It’s just so beautiful how God works. Again, the decision of, as a father in the real world, I had the immediate decisions that face a husband and someone that’s working as, "Okay, what is this going to do to my family? What are we doing tomorrow? What does the next week look like?"
Tara: Try to fix it.
Todd: What do I fix? How do I get this done? How do I make this pain go away? All those things that seem natural to a protectionist father and man, it can be so exaggerated. God programs us that way, but there are times we take over and it can be harmful.
I somehow made the decision, because it wasn’t mine, but somehow I came to the decision that I’ve got to surround myself with people that know me better than anyone, and I’ve got to stay close to them. I’m going to stay faithful because my job right now is to figure out how to keep my family together in what I can imagine is the worst thing that could’ve ever happened to us.
Choices became easy. Those aren’t the right words. It’s hard to describe it, but there was almost this discernment as to what I had to do as a father. That discernment became, "God, where are you in this, and will you just please show me what my first step is, my second step and …"
Tara: Your first instinct was to run.
Todd: Yeah, my natural instinct, and we talked about this, my first natural instinct was, “I can get away from this.” I traveled like crazy, had a great job. My mind started racing to places I needed to be in the next few weeks, and it was like, “You know what, I can escape.” That’s what I remember—the memory of just how, of what that escapism looked like and how that would just separate me from God and my family. Thank goodness I recognized it and that it scared me into other decisions.
Tara: You know, we had a choice. Like Todd said, it was a free will or fate. God gives us that free will. We had a choice to either crawl up in the grief of it all and live in the darkness, or we try to find the good—and we knew God was in the good. It wasn’t easy. This is not something like a light switch goes on and you go, “Okay, I think I’m going to be okay now. I’m going to find the good now.” It’s a struggle and people say to take baby steps, and that’s exactly what it is.
God has an invisible rope tied around your waist, and He’s just slowly pulling you toward him. He pulls and carries you through it because you can’t walk on your own.
Todd: You know John, it’s also important to point out that Tara and I have a perspective now. We have a perspective now that as a couple, as a married couple, we’re at a place where we can reflect on this and have been for a little while, but we’ve got to be completely honest. This type of conversation, Tara wouldn’t be capable of having this conversation a while back. There’s just times that it wouldn’t be possible. So it’s really important to the reader, to anyone that understands our story, to know that there’s not a prescriptive path to get through something like this.
This is our path. God wanted me to do this, and God wanted Tara to grieve this way and we were going to come together at this time. For other families, for other individuals, they have their own individual paths. It’s not like if you follow the Todd and Tara Storch 10 steps to recovery, it’s going to work.
What’s constant in all of this is the communication with your wife, the communication with your friends and family. The most important one is faith, just being open to the communication that you have to have with God and how you can get through it.
John: Todd, Tara, the interesting thing, and maybe this is the grace-filled thing, was within that moment, you guys made some very interesting decisions in regards to Taylor’s organs. As parents, did you have that in the back of your head all these years? Explain how you guys decided to donate her organs.
Todd: First of all, we talk about this very freely. Here we are as organ donor advocates right now. We’re very open that the conversation about organ donation never was a part of our family, we never had any conversations about it. We never had family meetings or talked about it around the dinner table.
I think when I was 16, I checked “yes,” but I don’t have any recollection of it. When it was that moment in the hospital room and the organ procurement organizations, the physicians, told us that Taylor was an excellent candidate for an organ donor, I knew immediately inside of me that it was right. I immediately turned to Tara and we just communicated through our eyes—and the answer was “yes,” it was like “absolutely.” Tara and I both just knew immediately.
That’s part of what is fueling the work that we do with our Foundation, Taylor’s Gift, which is it could have been so simple and so easy for us to say “no.” Wracked with grief, we’ve got too much to deal with, how dare you come in here and talk about that, all the things that you can get wrapped in. For some reason, we had the ability to say “yes” immediately. From that decision, so much beauty and greatness has come from that—through lots of pain, of course, but we’re an example of that.
Tara: Yeah, it gave us purpose. It gave us purpose in the pain, is what it did. Out of all the decisions we were making and that the world had stopped, that was the easiest decision. You know what, it gave us control over something. We knew, because of who Taylor was—the giving child, the wanting to help others kind of kid—we knew this was something she would’ve wanted. Although we never had the conversation, it was impressed on both of us that “yes” was the answer. It was one of those moments that we had to hang on to. People had asked us if it had given us any sort of peace to make that decision, or if it had given us any sort of peace to have connected with her recipients. We always say it never gives us peace. It’s not like, “We’ve met you, I’m better now.” What it does, it gives us strength. It gives us strength to get out of bed in the morning and to keep going and knowing that this is part of God’s purpose for us, whether we like it or not.
When Todd and I were sitting outside, he told me, “The quote of my grandfather keeps going in my head, that it’s not what happens to you that matters, it’s how you react to it that does.” We had a choice of how we were going to react. That’s why we decided, and it is a choice, to look for the good and to walk towards the light. We knew that Taylor is with God. So the farther we are from God, the farther we are from her, and that’s not where we want to be.
John: Tara, you mentioned some of the recipients of Taylor’s organs. What was that like, and how soon did you start meeting these people?
Tara: We connected … there’s a process you go through, supposed to go through where you … I would write a letter, it would be sent to the middleman who is the OPO, which is Organ Procurement Organization. They will read it to make sure there’s not too much personal information in it like I’m throwing in my address and phone number in it. They send it to the recipient. If the recipient wants to write a letter back … they’re like the middleman.
Todd: It’s a good procedure because of the things surrounding it.
Tara: We’ve met, connected with our first recipient on Facebook. This was probably four weeks after we got home. Todd was on the computer, and he goes, “Oh, my gosh! I think I have just been connecting with the daughter of the person who has Taylor’s kidney and pancreas,” as if “Go reach out to Todd over at Facebook and say, “I believe my father has your daughter’s kidney and pancreas.”
Through us calling the OPO and trying to work through how we’re going to connect with them, going through the procedure of it all, we decided that we were going to connect. Taylor passed away in March, and in June, we met Jeff, who has her kidney and pancreas. He had diabetes for 40 years, and was insulin dependent. He was doing dialysis because his kidneys were failing and he got Taylor’s kidney and pancreas. He has since given away all of his insulin, and is no longer diabetic. He has given away and sent back all of his dialysis equipment. He’s living a life that he hasn’t had. It was a blessing to hear that and connect with him.
John: Yes, what is that like…?
Tara: It is so bittersweet, because it’s a position we’d never want to be in, but then it’s a position we sort of do want to be in, making a difference.
Todd: It’s every emotion, it’s every single emotion, the ones you weren’t able to talk about, the ones you haven’t felt before. It’s excitement, it’s fantastic, it’s love, it’s sad, it’s bittersweet, it’s everything. Ultimately, it’s been amazing.
Tara and I, we also realize, how blessed we are. For us to be able to connect with just one recipient is a complete blessing. For us to have connected with four of the five, is …
Tara: Very rare.
Todd: Very rare. We don’t take that lightly. We’ve met so many families in our position that would give anything to meet a recipient. We don’t take it lightly.
Tara: We’re so thankful that the recipients have allowed us in their lives. There’s so many emotions on their side when it comes to guilt because our daughter passed away for them to survive. I mean, there’s guilt, there’s fear, there’s feeling responsible in a way, of making sure in a way that they’re taking care of her. You go through these emotions of praying that the person that receives this sees it as precious. We’ve been very blessed to meet and connect with these people who truly know that their gift is precious.
John: Todd and Tara, I am amazed at your story. I think you would probably agree with this that it’s just not your story or Taylor’s story. This is really a God story.
John: The moment that I first heard about this, my mind went to the promise that is found in the book of Ezekiel, where in somewhat of a similar manner, God says to his children that he will give them a new heart.
What a beautiful gospel representation that your family has gone through that has the ability to share ultimately the gospel story with people. What a beautiful story this is, and my prayer for the Storch family is that, like we just said, this is not to make much of you guys, but hopefully to have made much of Christ and what He is doing and has done through your family. What a beautiful family and beautiful story. I’m so thankful for this time.
Tara: One of Taylor’s favorite Scripture was Luke 18:27, ”What’s impossible with man is possible with God.” We have lived by that, because there are so many situations in our life that are completely impossible; ones that we thought we could never survive… like this. It should be impossible for us to survive the death of our child, but with God it’s been possible.
Todd: Again, we just really appreciate this and the Scripture and what you just read. It’s one of the beautiful reasons we connected with Max Lucado. He wrote the foreword and just that connectivity of receiving Christ, receiving a spiritual heart transplant, it’s a beautiful connection. We know how much we’re loved, and we are fortunate to be reminded of that, not just with friends and family, but just of how God has just wrapped us up in the Holy Spirit and just clothed us with love to get through this.
The whole reason of even doing this book is, it’s not about Todd and Tara. It’s truly a love story of how we, through this tragic story, show others just how much hope and inspiration is out there for people, no matter that tragic situation. You don’t have to lose your daughter to have tragedy in your life. We just feel obligated through these blessings to help others by sharing it. We appreciate the opportunity to talk to you and just really appreciate it and thank you for doing it.
John: Thank you very much you guys. I so appreciate this time. God bless you both and your ministry, and thank you for the opportunity to chat today. I appreciate it.
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Taylor's Gift by Todd Storch and Tara Storch