Family of teen skier uses son’s past to inform difficult decision to donate organs

By reading through his son’s journals and speaking with those close to him, Alex West’s father was able to see his son in a new way
Alex West was taken off life support Friday after a ski accident on Jan. 28.
Alex West was taken off life support Friday after a ski accident on Jan. 28.(NBC15)
Published: Feb. 5, 2022 at 6:18 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - The family of a Madison East High School student who was involved in a skiing accident in late January is using their son’s past to inform the difficult decision to donate his organs.

Madison East sophomore Alex West was involved in a skiing accident on Friday, Jan. 28 at Tyrol Basin, according to West’s father, Travis West. While the Dane County Sheriff’s Office could not say whether the two incidents were the same, the officials confirmed with NBC15 that on that same day they responded to the ski resort for a 15-year-old male who hit a pole while skiing. The Sheriff’s Office reported Med Flight responded to the incident.

Travis West says his family had been at American Family Children’s Hospital by Alex’s side for over a week. For the first couple days, West says there was hope the 15-year-old would recover from his injuries, but doctors later informed the family that would no longer be a possibility.

The West’s were given a choice.

“We had the option to allow him to become an organ donor or to allow him to perish,” West said.

The family turned to Alex’s past to help guide their decision.

“I had thought when I took him to get his temporary license he had selected that, so we dug up his license and he had picked it,” West said. “In talking with his friends and sister afterwards, we had learned that he had whole discussions about whether to do it or not do it and how important it was.”

By reading through his son’s journals and speaking with those close to him, West was able to see his son in a new way.

“He was an avid journal writer,” West said. “I don’t think we appreciated that until he was gone. As we’ve been finding his journals and going through them... He really thought on paper in a way that most of us are afraid to.”

Knowing it’s what Alex would have wanted, the decision to donate his organs could sit a bit easier with his family.

“He was just a lover of people, and when I was talking about his journals and reading, it was clear he often thought of others more than the rest of us do, and it doesn’t surprise me,” West said.

West says doctors have matches for all his son’s internal organs. With surgery just hours away, West can’t help but think of how much he learned from his son.

“The way he thought about the world and he figured things out at 15 that at 45 I still don’t know,” West said.

Message to families

In a letter to Madison East students and families on Friday, Interim Principal Mikki Smith confirmed Alex’s passing.

“Alex West has been described by his friends and teachers as an intelligent, funny and very confident young man. Alex excelled at many things, but many will remember him most of all for the genuine and robust relationships he built with his peers,” Smith said in the letter.

Smith also said the school will have support available for students who need counseling on Monday.

Internal investigation

NBC15 spoke with Tyrol Basin owner and manager Nathan McGree about the accident. McGree said the ski resort conducted and completed its own internal investigation of the incident but will not be sharing the findings.

McGree did share his condolences saying, “myself, my staff and ski patrol... our thoughts and prayers” are with the West family.

NBC15 is waiting to hear from the State Department of Safety and Professional Services on if they are conducting their own investigation.

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