JBER soldier gets hero's walk before organ donation
As Staff Sgt. Chris Enns’ family said their final goodbyes in private, hundreds of people started filling the halls of the intensive care unit at Mat-Su Regional Medical Center.
Soldiers and airmen in uniform, Mat-Su firefighters and paramedics, hospital staff, friends and even strangers lined up to give the 30-year-old soldier a hero’s walk.
On July 19, Chris's wife, Amber Enns, found him unresponsive. Doctors told Amber it was an idiopathic cardiac arrhythmia — a spontaneous irregular heartbeat — that caused Chris to stop breathing and left him without any brain function.
Chris served in the U.S. Army and did three tours in Afghanistan as a medic with the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, his father Eric Enns said. Most recently, Chris was in the Army Reserve and working as a firefighter in the Valley.
His final act of service was to be an organ donor.
“He was all about life,” his father said. “He saved lives, even after death. It’s so admirable. I’m so proud of the man that he is.”
The military members saluted as nurses pushed Chris' gurney down the ICU hallway, an American flag draped over him, and his loved ones following behind.
“Oh Chris, all these people love you so much,” Amber told her husband through her tears as they made the journey together.
Eric said he was touched by all of the support from the military and the first responders. He emphasized gratitude for the nurses and doctors at Mat-Su Regional, who treated his son and his family with the utmost care and respect during their time there.
His son's hero’s walk brought him to tears.
“It was beautiful. That was the most beautiful [thing] I’ve ever seen and it was for my son’s celebration of life,” Eric said. “A dad can’t be any more proud.”
A staff member from organ procurement agency LifeCenter Northwest couldn’t talk about Chris’ case specifically but said each donor has the ability to help up to eight people.
Family and friends gathered to share stories. They described Chris as an incredibly funny and giving man with a snarky sense of humor. He was a man who would be the first to volunteer for duties other people didn’t want to do.
“He was a great soldier to be with,” one man said. “He always had your back.”
Rhiann Caywood worked with Chris at a clinic and said he took her under his wing and helped her through difficult times.
“He was the most selfless person you could ever meet in your life,” she said.
Amber and Chris were high school sweethearts who met in Camas, Washington. They moved to Alaska from Germany in 2014.
Amber is currently a nursing student at the University of Alaska Anchorage's Mat-Su campus. Classmate Sydney Carle said Amber will graduate in December and plans to pursue a career in labor and delivery so “she can be a part of bringing life into the world.”
The family passed around a notebook where people could write down their memories of Chris that would be shared with his two young children, 5-year-old Vincent and 3-year-old Saren, when they get older.
“It’s a piece of their dad to know how loved he was,” Amber told the group.
She thanked everyone for their support and continued prayers.
“This is the beginning of a very rough road as my kids grow up and I try to raise them in a way Chris would be proud of.”
A GoFundMe campaign has been created for the family and had raised more than $15,000 as of Wednesday evening.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to include information on the fundraiser for the family.
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