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.
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? 🙂
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, or 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. 🙂
*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.