The Gift of Life

“Ye cannot live for yourselves; a thousand fibres connect you with your fellow-men, and along those fibres, as along sympathetic threads, run your actions as causes, and return to you as effects.”
~Henry Melvill

Do you have your wish list ready? It’s the holiday season, and even people who aren’t religious often exchange gifts and have visits from Santa. What gifts will you be giving? What do you hope to receive? For 115,000 people in the United States, the first thing on their list is probably an organ. That’s all, not their two front teeth, not the latest video game, but a liver, a kidney, a heart, a cornea or some other part of their body. That’s all. Maybe Melvill’s words are most important to hear as we make our list of who will receive what. Truly, a thousand fibres connect us with our fellow-man.

Were you scared? I asked my friend. At first, I was…but God gave me incredible peace. If I had to do it all over again, I would. Lisa donated one of her kidneys to her father 19 years ago. I can’t imagine the feeling on either side of the donation, but to know her daddy is still living because she shared an organ is incredible to me. Every day, 22 people die (every year 8,000 people) while they are waiting for a transplant to occur, waiting for a donor to be found. While 95% of people surveyed support the idea of organ donation, only 54% of people have signed up to be an organ donor, and in my state of Tennessee, only 38% of residents are signed up to be organ donors. It’s difficult to understand the reluctance when you’ve been involved on either end of organ donations.

  1. I don’t want them to pull the plug on me too soon. I reached out to a friend who is an ER physician and asked how they handle it when someone comes in who is a designated donor. His response? They don’t even look for that information when someone comes in. In fact, it is more likely that a patient who is near death might be kept alive longer when it is discovered they wish to donate organs.
  2. I’m young and not planning to die anytime soon. No one plans to die before they have lived a long life. However, 136,000 deaths in 2014 were accidents at a variety of ages. The 4th leading cause of death in the U.S. (accidents) is a reminder that we never know when we might die. You aren’t dead yet, and that’s great — you can be a living donor, donating part of your liver, a kidney, blood, or bone marrow.
  3. How much good could one person’s body do? Simply put, in death one person’s body could save 8 other lives through the donation of organs. If a person were to donate their cornea, sight could be restored for 2 people, and if you donate your tissue, 75 lives could be positively impacted.

If you’re still unsure of signing on to be a donor, perhaps hearing real-life stories might help you check the box online or on your driver’s license.

My friend, Quinn, lost her son when he was 15 years old. Because she allowed his organs to be donated ( lungs, heart, liver, both kidneys, pancreas, small and large intestines, skin, bone, tissue, and eyes), she knows today that more than 8 lives were either saved or improved.

My friend, Cindy, a two-time liver recipient, has had a healthy and productive life since the second transplant.

One of the most amazing stories, though, is of someone I’ve never met. Brendan Marrocco is a quadruple amputee, whose limbs were literally blown off serving our country in Iraq. He now has two arms that work with his body because of a procedure called vascularized composite allografts (VCA), in which donor arms were attached to his body and after a couple of years were completely connected to the nerves in his upper body. It’s amazing to realize the true freedom he has received through the gift of a donor.

When we die, we can choose to donate our organs, our entire bodies, or only certain parts of ourselves. Because many people want to have an open casket, organ removal is done with the view in mind. To see a Walk of Respect that takes place in some hospitals is a reminder to the family and all gathered in the hallways of the enormous gift of life heading to the operating room. Not only can our organs be used to save another person’s life, but our limbs and our skin (often for burn victims) can be used to change the quality of life of people who have been injured in accidents of many kinds.

I encourage you to visit donatelife.net to be sure you are signed up to be a donor. Read stories of donor families and of recipients. Know that no one is going to pull the plug on you early. Your organs might not be a match for someone on the list, but they might be a match, and in dying you could provide the gift of life. As we are living today, we can be blood donors and we can sign up to be bone marrow donors, should we ever be a match for someone in need. Let the words from more than a century ago sit with you — we are connected to our fellow man, but only we get to choose how strong those connections will be.

 

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