Brian’s Story: It Is Well with My Soul 

Brian Suttles standing with his two children in front of wife's grave

In 2011, Hannaleigh “Hanna” Suttles was a spirited and athletic 8-year-old. Her passions included singing, dancing, horseback riding, playing with makeup, and shopping. 

“She would go through the racks like she was an adult,” recalled her father, Brian Suttles, with a laugh. “I would ask if we could go somewhere else and she’d say, ‘daddy, go sit down over there.’”  

Hanna’s older brother, 17-year-old Richard “Ricky” Suttles, enjoyed playing basketball and lacrosse. He had a full academic scholarship to High Point University and was planning to attend NCSU to study math and engineering.  

“Ricky was in the Royal Rangers, which was like Boy Scouts, and had earned his Gold Falcon before he passed away,” said Suttles. “He was at the top of his class and was going to The Early College at Guilford in High Point. They were both precious children — humble, with compassion for others.”  

Inheriting their father’s resilience and unwavering faith, both Hanna and Ricky found the strength to navigate the loss of their mother, Carrie Beth Suttles, in March of 2011. Tragically, both Hanna and Ricky would lose their lives in a murder-suicide less than a year later. 

Mary Ann Holder — Hanna and Ricky’s aunt — took the lives of five innocent children, as well as her own, on Nov. 20, 2011. Among the victims were Holder’s two sons, her oldest son’s girlfriend, and her niece and nephew, Hanna and Ricky.  

“It was so unexpected, what happened,” said Suttles. “When I walked in the waiting room and saw all of Mary Ann’s family and my wife’s family, I knew it was bad. But even then, I wasn’t expecting what I was told.” 

The unfolding truth left family, friends, and the community in a state of shock — including Jeremiah Davis, Family Resource Specialist at HonorBridge. 

“Reflecting on this case is difficult, honestly,” said Davis. “When walking into the units at Moses Cone hospital, the sheer number of people there was unlike anything I’d seen before. Family, friends, police, extra hospital staff including chaplains, pediatric social workers/psychologists, security, unit directors, etc. I also remember there being so many HonorBridge staff involved and many of us working extra hours in support of all the families.” 

For Suttles, a father left reeling in a living nightmare, the HonorBridge team provided a sense of purpose in a tragic situation.  

“I wasn’t even registered as an organ donor myself, and I had never known anyone with a story about organ donation,” said Suttles. “I didn’t really know much about it, but HonorBridge was very respectful the whole time. They weren’t some outsiders trying to do a business transaction, they were concerned and asking questions, just like family members. They approached me and asked me if I wanted my kids to be organ donors, and I thought yes, of course. I knew without a doubt that both Hanna and Ricky would have wanted that. They were such giving and humble kids, and if they had the chance to save another child’s life, they would take it.”  

Altogether, Ricky and Hanna saved nine lives through their selfless donations. Ricky donated both of his kidneys, pancreas, lungs, liver, and heart to five different individuals, and Hanna donated her heart, kidneys, and liver to four more.  

Hanna’s heart recipient, a 7-year-old girl from Alabama, would have died within days had Suttles not said “yes” to organ donation.  

“Even though my little girl was gone, I certainly didn’t want to see another one pass away,” said Suttles. “I like to think that because of my daughter they didn’t have to plan for that funeral. I eventually received a letter about the girl who got Ricky’s heart, and ironically, she’s tall and plays basketball, just like my son. Of course, you don’t see the healing or the therapeutic part of that until later, but now I look back and realize how special it was. I’m so glad my kids in heaven saw me do that and saw the results of me making that decision.” 

Despite the healing that came with saving lives, Suttles lost his entire family within a year — a burden that no one should carry. Dereck Mushayamunda, Donation Advocacy Coach at HonorBridge, likens Suttles’ experience to that of Chicago lawyer Horatio Spafford, who penned the classic hymn, “It is Well with My Soul.”  

“After losing his only son, Horatio’s legal practice was ruined by the great Chicago fire,” said Mushayamunda. “In 1873, he decided to take his wife and four daughters on vacation to Europe. Delayed by pressing business commitments in New York, his family sailed ahead of him, and a shipwreck claimed his daughters. After arriving at the site of the shipwreck, he composed from deep within himself, ‘It is well, with my soul.’ In the depths of their loss, sorrows, and grief, both Horatio Spafford and Brian Suttles found a silver lining. I was truly humbled by the decision Brian made to consent to donation during such an overwhelming moment.” 

Amidst his profound loss, Suttles drew strength from his faith and the unexpected blessings that emerged, including a burgeoning music ministry. 

Teenagers in praise band with drums and guitars
The Beatitudes

“I’m a music teacher,” said Suttles. “I started teaching private music on the side, and in 2016 it just kind of exploded. Around 2019, I’d really come to terms with everything. For years, I didn’t want to hear about a plan, I just wanted my wife and kids back. But God has blessed me with a music ministry— I teach at a music academy and at a private Christian school, and six of my students started their own praise and worship group called The Beatitudes. For the past three years they’ve gone around and played at festivals and churches and blessed so many people.” 

Suttles is also a member of Compassionate Friends, a grief support group for parents coping with child loss. Despite the ongoing pain, Suttles has become a source of inspiration for others grappling with their own tragedies, sharing his journey of healing and advocating for organ donation. 

“My testimony has helped a lot of people realize that they can overcome,” said Suttles. “It’s still going to hurt, but a big part of that healing process for me was organ donation and knowing that my children carry on. For years, I begged God to take me, but I always knew that my kids would want me to put my feet on that floor every morning. And then God blessed me with the music, and the kids, and they helped me want to get up every morning. We played at the Strawberry Festival this past weekend in Wallace, and they were on the stage. It’s just a blessing to see kids want to do stuff like that. They’re like my own children, they’re very humble and down-to-earth.”  

Reflecting on his experiences, Suttles underscores the transformative power of saying “yes” to organ donation, affirming that even in the darkest moments, there can be light and purpose.  

“There’s no bad thing that’s going to come out of organ donation,” said Suttles. “It gives you something to carry on. My children were blessings on Earth, and they were blessings when they died. To me, my daughter’s heart recipient just solidifies that there was a plan. It wasn’t all supposed to be tragic. There was something good that was going to come of it. And HonorBridge was a huge part of making that happen.”