Meeting Oscar: Donor Sabbath (Win a free book!)

This post is part of an event called National Donor Sabbath that encourages organ donation. I have not received incentives, financial or otherwise, to post this story but do so out of commitment to the cause of organ and tissue donation.

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A few days ago, I met Oscar*. His wife, Debbie, sat next to me.

“We want everyone to know about the importance of organ donation,” she said. I was a little puzzled. Sure, organ donation is a worthy cause, but why would busy folks take time out of their lives to volunteer at educational events and donor recruitment? Everyone else I’d met had a personal connection, such as receiving an organ transplant years before.

As most of these affairs go, we went around the table to introduce ourselves.

“Hi,” said one woman. “I’m Sara Jacobs, and I received a heart transplant ten years ago.”

“I’m Aleesha Drake, and I had renal failure before receiving a kidney three years ago.”

I heard about dire prognoses and the years of health that followed these transplants. Truly, looking at these recipients I never would have known a doctor gave them a limited amount of time to live. Surely this group was unusual in representing the success stories rather than the failed transplants, but it still amazed me.

To have all of my organs in working order?

A blessing I had never considered a blessing.

Something to add to my Thankfulness Thursday lists, for sure.

Thank you, heart, for pumping blood and doing your job.

Thank you, kidneys and pancreas, for keeping me off dialysis.

Thank you, lungs and liver, for allowing me to breathe and process the necessary chemicals for me to live.

Thank you.

One woman grew teary as she told us that she received her kidney from an eighteen-year-old girl who died in a motorcycle accident. “I need to go home and write to her family,” she said. “I used to write them more often, but…” and she choked up.

Another woman said, “I’m a donor family. My husband died, and he wanted his organs donated.”

Then Oscar spoke.

“I’m Oscar Matthews,” he said. “I’ve been on the waiting list for a kidney for four years, and I’m still waiting for that special day.”

He paused, his jaw working up and down while his eyes reddened around the edges. Several listeners looked down or away to give him some space. After a moment, he flicked his hand toward his wife. As Debbie began to speak, Oscar took out a white handkerchief and pressed it to his eyes. A murmur of sympathy rippled around the room.

“We want everyone to know that donating organs can save lives,” Debbie said. “I’ve signed up as a donor, I’ve gotten all of my family to sign, and now I want to tell everyone how important it is to donate.”

Every day, an average of 18 people die while waiting for an organ transplant.

There are some common myths about organ donation, so common that Mayo Clinic has listed each myth with an explanation of fact. Examples:

  • Myth: I’m too old/young/sick to donate. Or: I didn’t qualify to donate blood, so I won’t qualify to donate organs.
    .
  • Fact: In the US, anyone age 13 and over (with parental consent) can register as a donor. If a child dies .before he or she turns 18, parents will have final say about organ donation.
    Fact: There is no upper age limit for donation. In fact, the oldest recorded donor (so far) was a 91-year-old who lived in Texas. Even if some of your organs are not great, others might work well enough to give someone a chance.
    Fact: The criteria for organ donation is more flexible than blood donation, and the criteria change frequently according to need and supply.
    Fact: A very small percentage of deaths qualify for organ donation. You must die in a hospital (or else the organs deteriorate and are unsuitable for transplant) and, at least in some states, be pronounced brain dead by two separate doctors who are not in any way connected with organ transplant services.+ For this reason, organ donation registries ask everyone to sign up, regardless of illness or other conditions, and allow transplant coordinators to test for eligibility at the time of death.
    .
  • Myth: I don’t want my family to pay for costs associated with organ donation.
    Fact: Organ donors are never charged for the donation.
    .
  • Myth: I don’t want to break rules of my religion by donating.
    .
    Fact: With a few exceptions, most major religions either encourage or permit organ donation.
    .
  • Myth: I want to be an organ donor, but my family will want an open casket funeral
    .
    Fact: You can donate your organs and still be presentable for an open casket funeral. Do you want to know how? Haven’t I squicked you out enough already by talking about death? πŸ™‚

Besides the Mayo Clinic article, here are a few other common misconceptions:

Myth: If I checked “donor” on my driver’s license registration, I don’t have to do anything else.
.

Fact: While “first person consent” (consent of the donor rather than the family) is now legally binding, transplant coordinators will have to work with your family members. In some cases, family members can make details so difficult that the transplant cannot go through. Please let your family know your wishes to make sure they are carried out.
.

Myth: I don’t have to sign up on a donor registry because I’ve got it listed on my driver’s license.
.

Fact: Your driver’s license registration is a simple “yes” or “no” to organ and tissue donation (more about that later). By registering at Donate Life America, DonateLife Australia, orΒ  Organ Donation (UK) (sorry, I don’t yet have other international links…please share if you do!), you can specify your wishes and simplify the process. If you are not listed on a registry, it will take extra steps to verify that you did indeed wish to donate.

.

Myth: I can only sign up for one state organ donor registry.

.

Fact: There is no national registry for organ donors. Yes, you read that correctly. If you are visiting friends or family in a state other than where you usually live, or if you regularly go between two home states (such as college students or snowbirds), you should register for each state.

Click here, if you live in the US, to register on your state’s donor list.

If you have links for donor registries in other countries, please share them in the comments. I’ll add them here.

At the end of the meeting, I took Oscar’s hand in mine.

“Would it be all right if I shared your story with other people so they can understand the importance of organ donation?”

His composure restored after the inevitable coffee and treats available at these types of affairs, he patted my hand. “I’d like that,” he said.

I nodded, a plan already forming in my mind. “Would it be okay if I prayed for you? I know there are many people who would pray for you, too.”

He caught his breath, paused again, and nodded. “That would be wonderful.”

If you have registered as an organ donor, please let me know in the comments. I will randomly choose one registered donor to win one free book from my backlist (excluding the anthologies).

If you are a registering as an organ donor for the first time today, you will receive TWO entries. πŸ™‚

*Names and identifying details have been changed.

+”Brain death” is a specific definition that does not include “persistent vegetative state” (think Terry Schiavo or Karen Ann Quinlan). Neither Terry nor Karen would have qualified as organ donors.

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30 thoughts on “Meeting Oscar: Donor Sabbath (Win a free book!)

  1. Nancy Levine says:

    Thanks for all the info on organ/tissue donation. You’ve given me something to think about. My aunt donated organ and tissue and after she passed away, they were used for research, which will hopefully help others. That’s just the way she wanted it.

    Like

  2. SH says:

    What a wonderful post Ana! Lots of information here and I learned something because I did not know that I had to register to be a donor. I thought what I did on my DL was enough although my husband and children are all aware of my decision. Heck if I am dead why would I need my organs anymore anyway maybe someone else can live instead which I think would be awesome πŸ™‚ I will also pray for Oscar to get his HEA.

    Like

    • Anastasia Vitsky says:

      Hi SH! Your driver’s license registration is valid, but without state registries it will take a LOT more work to carry out the donation.

      Think of it as car insurance cards. If you pay your fee every month and get in an accident, you will eventually get coverage. But if you have your insurance card in your glove compartment at the accident, you will have all of the information to take care of all the details right away.

      Registering on multiple state organ donor sites is like carrying your insurance card with you. It will make it much easier.

      I so hope Oscar will get his HEA, as you say. If I get any news, I will report back.

      Thank you so much.

      Like

  3. Sheila says:

    I have been an organ donor since I could drive. It is marked on my driver’s license. I also donate plasma at the blood bank regularly. I hate it when I have had surgery in the past and could not donate for a year. I also have registered to be a bone marrow donor. So few people donate. Last statistics I heard were 65% of people were eligible to donate blood but only 5% do. It is easy to do, takes little time, and is so valuable. I have been at the blood bank donating when they have gone over what was needed for the week. I was awed by how much plasma some people needed for cancer treatments or burn recovery. Some people went through a pint per hour. It is only through donations that this need can be met. Artificial blood and organs are not available. Only people helping people works.

    Like

    • Anastasia Vitsky says:

      Me, too. I was excited to check the donor box for my first driver’s license.

      Unfortunately, the rules of blood and plasma donation are so stringent that many people can’t donate even if they would like to do so. I’m glad that organ and tissue donation are not as difficult. For example, someone with hepatitis might be on a waiting list for an organ. That means someone with hepatitis could be a donor.

      I think it’s great that so many people are becoming more aware and helping to fill the registries.

      Like

      • Sheila says:

        That’s true but too often people who are eligible to donate don’t because they either don’t think about it or they had one bad experience. Being stuck is not my favorite thing to do (and it’s harder now because of all the scar tissue) but it only hurts a moment and can save a life.

        Like

  4. quiet sara says:

    I’ve been a donor for as long as I have had a driver’s licence (so quite a while!) I had a boyfriend once who said he wasn’t donating because he wanted to keep everything for himself. Selfish, stupid man. Thank God I dumped him.

    Like

    • Anastasia Vitsky says:

      Sounds like that’s a common story. The driver’s license is a great way to reach people.

      Wow, it’s not as if we can keep our organs after we die. If it’s a religious objection I could understand. Though I do think sometimes people just get squicky about death in general.

      Like

  5. Ruth Staunton says:

    I’m listed as a donor on my driver’s license and my family knows my wishes. I had no idea there were state registries. I’m going to register there too, and post links on my non-writing FB page so my other family and friends can register too.

    Like

  6. chickie says:

    It’s been on my drivers license that I’m a donor forever, but I made a point to let family members know my wishes a few years ago. There was a local situation in which a very healthy 30-something woman was killed by a car while out running. Even though she was a registered donor, her family refused to donate her organs because they didn’t think she’d want to. There were many lives that could’ve been saved as a result of that tragedy. Really drove home the point for many people to talk about those final wishes no matter how uncomfortable the conversation.

    Like

    • Anastasia Vitsky says:

      I know. It’s a similar situation with living wills. Legal paperwork can only go so far when family members fight it every step of the way. I’m glad your family knows your wishes.

      I hope that none of us will die an untimely death, but I want my death (whenever it happens) to help someone else if at all possible. Thank you for posting.

      Like

  7. Meg says:

    Thanks so much for all the information. I will check the box on my license and tell my family to do it too.

    Thanks for making everyone aware

    Like

  8. abby says:

    Thanks for this important post. I have signed my driver’s license many years ago. My family also knows my wishes….there are so many people whose lives could change for the better.
    hugs abby

    Like

  9. Roz says:

    Hi Ana, thank you for this very important information and especially highlighting the myths and facts. While the legal ins and outs and registration requirements etc may vary for us, this information applies here and is invaluable.

    Thank you for sharing Oscar’s story too. Very touching.

    Hugs,
    Roz

    Like

  10. sarah thorne says:

    Hi Anastasia. My brother passed in April. He was declared brain dead, and the organ donation people came to speak with us just as we were preparing to go in and surround him while his breathing tube was removed, thus allowing the rest of his body to die off naturally. He had Hepatitis C, but the organ people said they took diseased organs too because there were some people waiting who were willing to take diseased organs and live with the disease if it meant longer life.

    Something else I didn’t know because I’d never really thought about it, is that they take the organs while you’re still on life support. It makes sense, of course. However, we declined. It was too much to consider as we were just getting ready to walk into the room and be with him in his final moments as the rest of his body shut down naturally.

    Like

    • Anastasia Vitsky says:

      Sarah,

      Thank you so much for sharing your story here. What a loss for you and your entire family. 😦 Only you and your family knew what was right for you and how to make those last moments as precious as they could be. I hope that you were able to find some comfort in being together as you said goodbye.

      I am a little appalled if the organ donation people said “life support”…that is inaccurate and misleading. The difference between “life support” (for someone like Terry Schiavo) and what is called “mechanical support” is that there is a chance, however slim, that someone on life support could return to consciousness. Someone on mechanical support has died, and the machines only act as a way to preserve organs.

      Regardless, the moment of loss is difficult for everyone, and I hope that your family was treated with respect.

      Gentle hugs, and thanks for visiting. Please come back soon.

      Like

  11. sarah thorne says:

    The term “life support” was mine. My brother was on a respirator. To my understanding, that was the only thing keeping his body from dying off naturally, as his brain was dead. Specifically, my father considered briefly saying yes and asked “do you go in and take the organs while he is still on life support?” The representative hesitated, and I suspect he was thinking of pointing out the difference because he acted as if he was going to say something. I guess he figured pointing out the difference in that moment wasn’t helpful, and wasn’t the time. So he simply said, “yes.” He understood what my father meant. πŸ™‚

    Like

    • Anastasia Vitsky says:

      Oh, I see! Thank you for clarifying. Yes, in that case it makes much more sense to respect the term the family uses.

      The most important thing is to respect the family’s time of grieving and loss. I am glad the representative seems to have done so.

      This is why it’s so important, if someone wants to be an organ donor, to share that wish with family members. It’s the family members who will have the hard task of making decisions, and it’s even harder not know what the person would have wanted. I’ve told everyone close to me that I want my organs donated (for transplant, not research, even though I respect those who choose research).

      Hugs.

      Like

  12. laurellasky says:

    My husband and I are both organ donors. It is especially important because Ed has Alzheimer’s and his tissue and brain are so important. I have a lot of missing parts but my eyes are still good. My sister Pat died at age 53. I would had gladly given her a kidney by because of her fatal orphan disease she also had a bleeding problem. Her disease was primary amyloidosis which attacks major organs. Interestingly beta amyloids are found in the brain of people with Alzheimer’s. hopefully there will be a cure someday.

    Like

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