By Guest Blogger, Missy W.
I have been asked by my dear friend and CSP contributor, Ashley H., to introduce you to the world of organ, eye, and tissue donation. When she first broached the subject, gently and kindly understanding the sensitive nature of her request, I didn’t think twice. I knew she recognized the importance of sharing this topic with our great community and I saw it as another way to honor my brother, hoping other lives may be saved in the future because of his story.
Late last summer, I got a call, the one we all secretly dread. This one was from my mom, about my brother. He was in the hospital, on life support. Then, he died. Suddenly at 39, he was gone. As my family and I struggled to accept his untimely death and our lives without him in it, the most unforeseen events began to unfold. “He is a donor.” A nurse quietly whispered that night in the hospital. I didn’t know then how significant that statement was, but fairly soon the silver lining in darkest of clouds began to appear.
Enter: LifeShare of The Carolinas.
Let me start by saying that LifeShare is an amazing organization with an incredibly difficult job. They are charged with addressing the emotional strains of the grieving with the emotional ups and downs of the hopeful; those who have lost with those who hope not to lose, and from my perspective the people who take on this job are quite simply, saints. My first contact with LifeShare was with Cynthia Willis. She was compassionate and kind and genuinely sympathetic as she explained to me the steps in the donor process, what had happened already and what was going to take place in the next few hours. Then she tells me that they have already found a recipient for my brother’s liver. I take a deep breath, “Really?” I ask. Her voice continues to share that this recipient just gave up on life the day before. He had been waiting for so long and was terribly sick. My brother was his match. Cynthia goes on to say that matches for other organs are imminent. “Missy, your brother may have saved the lives of three people tonight.” Her words transform me. I move from wounded and anxious to calm and thankful in a matter of seconds. The reality sets in. Before my brother is gone from us forever he will give a fresh start, a second chance at life to complete strangers. My healing begins.
About a month after my brother’s death, LifeShare sent us a letter informing us that three people did in fact receive transplants; three men in their early 40’s with families, kids, and careers. We were told that these men had been sick for a long time, with two on dialysis for over five years. We were happy to hear that they were getting better and regaining strength and their lives back. I eventually wrote a letter to my brother’s recipients to share a little about him and to offer our wishes for increased health and joy. This is something LifeShare encourages families to do, part of the grieving process, another way to heal and it really was helpful to me. It is possible one or all of the recipients could write back, then again, we may never hear from them, and that is OK. To know that my brother does live on, despite his absence from our lives, is truly gift enough.
Becoming a Donor
LifeShare of the Carolinas is an organ and tissue procurement organization designed by the federal government. It is based in Charlotte with a satellite office in Asheville and serves 40 hospitals in a 22 county area. (There are other organizations in N.C., but LifeShare serves the greater Charlotte area). When someone passes away, LifeShare works with the medical staff and the deceased’s family to determine 1) if the person is a donor and 2) if the person’s organs and/or tissue would meet the rigorous qualifications to be offered for a transplant. In North Carolina, if you indicate you would like to be a donor when getting your drivers license or state identification card, a little red heart appears on your card. This is considered first person consent and releases the family from making a decision about organ or eye donation and offers guidance to the medical staff. Tissue donation still requires next of kin consent. However, to be sure your specific donation requests are respected, the best way to sign up as a donor is to go online and register through the Donate Life America website. It is easy, quick, and legally binding. Find your state in the drop down menu and fill out a short survey. Here you can specify exactly what you would be willing to offer for donation or you can click the box that says “I wish to donate any needed organs/eye/tissues.” You can also say yes to educational/medical research in case your donation is not suitable for transplantation. There may be concerns and myths surrounding donations for medical research/educational purposes, but rest assured that your donation is very much respected and will be only be utilized if a true medical or educational outcome is deemed possible. Full body donation is not offered for educational/medical research unless someone specifically states this in his/her will.
I know it is difficult to think of our own mortality and to talk openly with our loved ones about death, but I encourage you to consider being a donor and to share your desires with those around you. If any of you are on the fence about donation, wondering if it is right for you, consider these startling statistics. Of the people who pass away only 4% are actually eligible for donation and only 60% of those people have said yes to donation. There are now over 100,000 people on the national organ waiting list and the number is growing.
If you still need a nudge…
“Don’t think of organ donation as giving up part of yourself to keep a total stranger alive. It’s really a total stranger giving up almost all of themselves to keep part of you alive.” -Author Unknown
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