For the late Derek “Chip” Hansen of Issaquah, the desire to help others began at a young age.
“Once you were his friend, you were his friend,” said Chip’s mother, Sally Hansen. “He was very loyal to his friends.”
As a teenager, Chip realized that he had a calling in law enforcement.
“He would do police ride-alongs with Renton Police Department every chance he got,” Sally described.
It’s no surprise then, that Chip’s passion for service led him first to join the U.S. Army after college, and then to become a police officer in Zillah and Wapato, Washington, both near Yakima.
In his service careers, Chip learned how to communicate with others to stop violence. While in the Army, he was sent to Haiti, where he worked to calm civic unrest in the mid-1990s.
Back in Washington as a police officer, Chip reached out to troubled teens through rugby, a sport that he had played in high school and coached in college at Central Washington University.
“He would run into teen gang members and he invited them to come play rugby,” Sally said. “It was one way of trying to get kids off the street and out of gangs.”
But in 2011, it was in the very act of service that Chip was seriously injured. He and a colleague attempted to restrain a man who was acting out violently under the influence of drugs and alcohol. The subject hit Chip with such force that it knocked the nearly 7-foot-tall police officer to the ground.
Because Chip was no longer able to lift his right arm properly, he was medically retired from the police force. However, he did not let the disappointment crush his spirit; he used his free time to reach out and help others.
“Instead of feeling sorry for himself, he went out and bought a sewing machine and made fleece blankets” for all of his friends and family members, Sally said.
“Anytime anyone had a baby, he was there with a blanket,” she added.
However, three years later, life took a turn that no one expected. In March 2014, two years after having surgery on his injured shoulder, Chip died from complications of the surgery. Chip, not yet 44, left behind a 17-year-old son and a fiancee.
Because Chip’s death was ruled a line-of-duty death, his name is on the National Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. next to the names of all those who have died protecting Americans in the police force.
That could have been the end of the story.
But even in death, Chip was not done helping others. Sally and Hugh donated Chip’s tissue to LifeNet Health, the world’s largest provider of human organs, tissue and cells. Chip’s tissue went to help 121 people and his corneas gave the gift of sight to two people.
“Even in his passing, he is contributing to other people’s betterment … In a way, he’s still alive out there,” Hugh said.
Levi Anderson, general manager of Northwest operations at LifeNet, said that while 80 percent of driver’s licenses in Washington have hearts on them — “a sign or signal that our community is very much in support of organ donation” — it is still extremely difficult to attain organs after death because loved ones need to agree to allow the organs to be given. Therefore, he said, it is very important for everyone, no matter how healthy, to have the discussion with their family members about what would be done with their organs in the event of death.
“We always encourage people to speak to their loved ones to know what their wishes are,” Anderson stressed.
The other factor that makes organ donation difficult is time. Anderson said that organs must be collected within 24 hours of death. Often times, after having had a chance to think over the matter, family members will call and decide they do want to donate their loved one’s tissue — but by then, it is too late.
Luckily, the Hansens were able to change lives through Chip’s generous donations. Chip’s tissue went to 21 states and Great Britain. Letters have come from people who have been impacted by Chip’s legacy. Sally remembers one letter in particular, written by a man who had a bone graft in his neck.
“Now, I can play with my children,” the man wrote.