celebrity

Katherine Heigl’s brother died one week before his 16th birthday. She doesn’t often talk about him.

For over 35 years, A-list Hollywood actress Katherine Heigl has remained quiet on the details and impact of her brother Jason’s tragic death. That is until recently.

The A-list Hollywood actress opened up about the experience of losing a sibling so young in a moving tribute posted to her Instagram and Facebook.  

"This is my brother Jason. He was about 12 or 13 in this picture. He was taken off life support 35 years ago today," Heigl shared with her over four million followers.

Watch: Nobody speaks to me like Mamamia. Post continues Below.


Video via Mamamia

On September 23 1986, Jason was involved in a tragic car accident that led him to the ICU, where he was on life support for seven days. He died one week before his 16th birthday. 

"I don’t often talk about him. Or this day. Or the weeks and months and years that followed, but my mother wrote an email to a friend this morning that she shared with me and I thought… well that I’d like to share her words because what she has to say is important. Not only for my family but for anyone out there who has lost someone they love too soon.

"[From Nancy Heigl] – actually, today is the day that he died in 1986. All day today, various helicopters flew into Norwalk Hospital in Connecticut, bringing surgeons from other hospitals and early this evening they took him into surgery and removed his organs for donations. Sorry, just on my mind today and probably sharing too much."

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It was a heartbreaking decision for her parents, Heigl notes, but a decision the family knew Jason would approve. 

"They donated his eyes. His heart. His lungs. They donated what they could because they not only knew it was what Jason would have wanted but because they did not want anyone else to suffer what they now would have to if they could prevent it.

"My mother always says it was not the easy thing to do but it was the right thing to do."

Nancy has a house on her daughter’s sprawling estate ranch in Utah, where they keep horses, donkeys, goats and chickens.

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The ranch also includes ‘Heigl Hounds of Hope’ – an adoption centre for vulnerable dogs rescued from high-kill shelters. The centre is supported by the Jason Debus Heigl Foundation, a not-for-profit the Heigl family established in honour of Jason.

It’s a cause that was close to his heart, Heigl tells: “Jason influenced our family in every way possible. He was always looking out for and caring for the voiceless and the innocent,” she said in an interview with Dogster

"He really especially loved a big black Labrador we had named Ben Davis. When Jason was hospitalised for the week after his accident and died, Ben Davis ran away, and we all thought he was out looking for Jason. Finally, after about five days, we found him and brought him home. I believe he knew Jason was gone and [the dog] missed him the whole rest of his life." 

Listen to This Glorious Mess. This episode tells the story of little Cooper and the donation that saved his life. Post continues after audio.


The Firefly Lane, Grey’s Anatomy and 27 Dresses actress has spoken previously about how her loved ones and family are her first priority. Heigl and her partner of 14 years, musician Josh Kelley, are parents to two adopted children, Naleigh and Adalaide, and one biological son, Joshua Jr.

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"When I first became a mother, the idea of loving my children the way I did terrified me, because it could all be taken away," she told the Today Show.

"Many people have suffered through something like that. I have witnessed the worst thing that can happen to a parent happen to my parents. I think it definitely affects how you feel and what you think and what your core beliefs are about life, parenting and love. I’ve come to understand that you can survive it, and it doesn’t negate the worthwhile love."

It only takes one minute to register as an organ and tissue donor. 

I put it to the test myself and signed up to be an organ donor while writing this story. All I had to do was visit Donate Life, fill in the form with my regular day-to-day details and then I was registered and notified that a donor card would be posted to me as well. 

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With Australia having an opt-in system of organ donation, just one person signing up can transform the lives of a lot of people. 

In 2020 alone, 1,270 Australian lives were saved through an organ transplant due to the generosity of 463 deceased organ donors and their families.

Image: Supplied. Currently, 1,800 Australians are wait-listed for a transplant and more than 13,000 are on dialysis and may need a kidney transplant. It’s a waiting game, according to Emmy O’Neill. 

"I’ve been waiting to get on the transplant list, waiting until I start dialysis and now that I have started dialysis, I am still waiting… waiting for a kidney. I literally am waiting for someone to die so that I can live," Emmy shared with Mamamia.

As Heigl wrote in her post commemorating Jason, it’s a life-changing decision to donate your organs or donate a loved one’s organs on behalf of them.

"Death is inevitable. Tragedies happen. But none of us are in this alone. At least that’s what Jason taught me. Today - on the anniversary of Jason’s death - I implore us all to do not the easy thing but the right thing and become an organ donor."

Register to become an organ and tissue donor today: https://www.donatelife.gov.au/join-register 

Feature Image: Instagram, @katherineheigl  

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