UNC mascot's decision to be an organ donor forever changed lives

On Monday. ESPN.com's E-ticket will feature "Ray of Hope," a story about Jason Ray, the University of North Carolina mascot who died in March, during the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, after he was hit by a car before a game. Ray was an organ donor, and in an exclusive arrangement with his parents and the organ recipients, E-ticket tells the story of how this one tragedy changed the lives of five families.

In the story, ESPN.com senior writer Wayne Drehs explores the life and death of Ray, and a reunion coordinated by the New Jersey Sharing Network and ESPN in which Ray's parents meet the four people who received their son's donated organs. The story also features photos by Rob Tringali and Jon Veleas, and includes a special interactive design with video, audio, photo galleries, podcasts, information about organ donation and other multimedia elements.

ESPN.com collaborated on its story with "E:60," ESPN's new prime-time newsmagazine which premieres Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET. The "E:60" story on Jason Ray is scheduled to air in the show's debut.

As ESPN.com's Wayne Drehs writes in the E-ticket:

    There had been an accident. On Route 4, a few hundred yards from where the Tar Heels were staying at the Fort Lee Hilton. Jason had left the team hotel to walk to a gas station so he could grab a burrito and a soda before that night's game. On the way back, while Jason was walking alongside the highway in his North Carolina sweats, a Mercury Mountaineer struck him.

    The result was a cracked skull and catastrophic brain injury. He was in a coma. A life-support machine was the only thing keeping him alive. The neurosurgeon who met the Rays painted a grim picture for their son's future.

    "The doctor told me, 'Mr. Ray, I'm going to do everything I can to save your son, but I'm not God and this is going to take His intervention, because I've never seen someone injured as catastrophically as Jason make a comeback,'" says Jason's father, Emmitt Ray.

    That Friday night, the Tar Heels beat USC in their Sweet 16 matchup at the Meadowlands, but they did so without Rameses on the sideline. …

    For Jason's parents, the pain might never to go away. The scars might never heal. Losing a child is something no parent should have to endure. But now, Emmitt and Charlotte Ray can't help but remember their son walking into that kitchen, flipping his license onto the table and smiling about being an organ donor.

    Because of Jason's decision to be an organ donor, five children have their fathers back. Four mothers have their sons back. As many as 75 others benefited from tissue donation -- such as a new cornea or a new ACL. But just as importantly, two parents from North Carolina have started to find peace with the tragedy that shook their world six months ago. After the experiences they shared on their return visit to New Jersey, Emmitt and Charlotte were inspired to undergo counseling. They've also decided to become organ donors.

    "We can't go back and get Jason," Emmitt says. "And I'd hate to tell you what would happen to those recipients if we could. But when you hear these stories, when you listen to where these people were and where they are now, you realize -- it isn't all about Jason. It's as much about them.

    "And if you hear these stories and don't think that there is some sort of greater architect working here, you've got something wrong with you."

E-ticket is an Emmy Award-winning feature on ESPN.com that presents long-form storytelling with integrated audio, video, images and text.

An E-ticket, written by ESPN.com senior writer Wayne Drehs and produced by Nik Kleinberg last year, told the story of high school football played for the first time north of the Arctic in Barrow, Alaska. The piece won an Emmy in April in the broadband long-form category.