Forever in memory: Transplant team lost in lifesaving mission

Univeristy of Michigan Transplant Team

U-M Transplant Team

On June 4, 2007, a team of two U-M surgeons, David Ashburn, M.D., Martinus (Martin) Spoor, M.D., two U-M transplant donation specialists, Richard Chenault II and Richard LaPensee, and two Martin Air pilots, Dennis Hoyes and William Serra, were on a mission to save the life of a man in desperate need of a lung transplant.

After Dr. Spoor removed the lungs from the donor, they were packaged and loaded onto the plane for the 227-mile flight back. Experts say lungs must be transplanted within about four hours of their removal.

The plane took off at 3:58 p.m. local time from General Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It crashed into Lake Michigan, minutes after take-off. All six men were killed.

"As we heal, we are presented with a second opportunity, and it is one I hope we all seize, because it best reflects Martin and David, Richard and Ricky, Bill and Dennis. And that is to live life," said President Mary Sue Coleman (shown in the photo above with retired Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs Robert Kelch).

In Memoriam:

David Ashburn, M.D., 35, was born and raised in Bristol, Tennessee, a community about 100 miles northeast of the Smoky Mountains. Ashburn joined the U-M in 2005 as a resident in cardiothoracic surgery, and was about to begin a fellowship in pediatric cardiovascular surgery the following month. His wife, Candice, describes him as "larger than life" and says, "I never met anyone who was more fun than David-as a husband, a father, a son, a friend, a colleague he was a small town boy who experienced life in a big way-but never forgot where he came from." David is survived by his wife, Candice, and three small children, Maddie, Annabelle, and little Dave Jr., born with Down syndrome, whose first birthday came two months later, on August 4, 2007.

Richard Chenault II was 44, lived in Ann Arbor, joined the U-M as a laboratory technician in 1985, and had been a transplant donation specialist at the Transplant Center for ten years. In 2006, he received the U.S. Department of health and Human Services' distinguished Medal of Honor for his efforts to increase organ donation.

Richard coached the Gabriel Richard H.S. girls track team to 2nd at state just two days before the tragic plane crash. "He was like a superhero to us," said Kristen Goncalves, a junior on the team. "He was always helping others," said runner Mary Butman. "That's one of the lessons we learned from him that we'll always remember." He is survived by his wife, a daughter, and stepson.

Rick LaPensee was 48, lived in Van Buren Township, and joined the U-M Transplant Center as a part-time transplant donation specialist in 2005. Rick also had 14 years with the Ypsilanti Fire Department. He talked with his fellow fire fighters about his work for U-M, where he hoped to work full-time when he retired from firefighting.As a former Transplant Center co-worker wrote on the UMHS condolence site, "He was totally driven by his passion to be of service to mankind." Rick is survived by his wife of 23 years, Claudia, his two sons, Brendan and Derrick and his parents.

Dennis Hoyes, of Jackson, was 65, a retired insurance agent and a pilot with Martin Air, Inc. He had flown Cessnas for ten years. On the UMHS condolence page, a friend said he will miss Dennis' "wonderful sense of humor, his loving concern for others, the great games of Euchre." Dennis is survived by his wife of 35 years, Vanyce, and five children, Brian, Brad, Robin, Tammy, and Kimberly, and seven grandchildren.

William (Bill) Serra, 59, was Martin Air's chief pilot and check airman. Serra became a pilot shortly after serving in the U.S. military, and had more than 12,000 flight hours as a full-time pilot. Serra's son said, "He touched the lives of everybody he met and he just cared for people. That's how he would have liked to be remembered." Bill is survived by his wife, Deborah, one son and two daughters.

Martinus (Martin) Spoor, M.D., 37, met his wife Susan on the first day of his second year of University of Calgary medical school. He graduated in May 1995 and moved to Edmonton to start his cardiac surgery residency while Susan finished medical school. A few days after her graduation, they got married in the Rocky Mountains. In July 2003, Martin took a fellowship position in U-M's Department of Cardiac Surgery. Friends and family describe Martin as a "gentle, fun, loving father" and a man who would "do whatever needed to be done." Martin is survived by his wife, Susan, three children, parents, and brother.

They will be forever in our memory and can never be replaced.