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Getting to the Heart of Organ Donation

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Did you know that April is National Organ Donation Awareness Month?  I know it’s probably not marked on your calendar because it’s not celebrated by drinking green beer or setting off illegal fireworks.  But I feel that it is my duty to bring it to your attention so that in the future, when you think “spring” you think “kidney.”

Now, I will tell you that I completely understand why you might be a little bit squeamish about the idea of tossing around vital organs.  I’m the girl who had to have her college roommates screen PG-13 movies before she could go see them, lest they be too “graphic.”  I’m the mother who closes her eyes, holds out the sticky band-aid and asks her children to put their own bloody finger in it and wrap it up.  I’m the woman who was downright creeped out at the thought of another person living inside of her the three times she was pregnant.

I know, I know.  I can appreciate how miraculous giving the gift of life is…when it’s happening to someone else.  I would have that soft, content pregnancy glow until my husband would point at my bulging belly and say, “Hey…is that an elbow poking out right there?”

And then that glow would turn a little green.

Anyway, like pregnancy, organ donation is very much “giving the gift of life.”  All of the pieces have to be in the right place at the right time to make it happen.  And I know about this miracle first-hand.  Because I am the wife of an organ donor.

My husband made the decision long ago to have that little heart added to his driver’s license, volunteering to be a donor should anything happen.  And I can honestly say that even if he had forgotten to sign up, when I was asked to give my permission for donation, my answer would have been the same.

Absolutely.

At the time of my husband’s death, I knew very little about organ and tissue donation.  My medical background consisted of a few years of Grey’s Anatomy and the instructions I’d read on the back of a Neosporin tube.  But now I know that there are around 500,000 people in the United States who are positively impacted by donation every year.  And I know the comfort that comes with helping to improve another person’s quality of life.

Many people think that this procedure only involves vital organs, but that’s just not true.  If that were the case, my husband could have only helped a handful of people.  In reality, he improved the lives of almost 100 people the day that he died.

That’s right.  My husband, one person, improved the lives of almost 100 people.

I do a lot of public speaking on behalf of the Donor Alliance of Colorado.  I think it’s important for people to know the positive impact my husband’s organ donation had not only on his donor recipients, but on my life as well.  And every time I give a speech and I meet a recipient or I hear stories of how organ and tissue donation has changed a life, it changes mine even more.

I once shared my story with a company that assists in the tissue donation process.  As I was leaving, one of the executives walked out with me and told me a story that I will never forget.

“You know, we once worked with a man whose knee was in such bad shape, his doctors told him that eventually he wouldn’t be able to walk,” he said.  “They told him to sell his multi-level house and buy something that was one story because he would not be able to go up and down stairs.  That guy went in for a second opinion and that doctor told him that he thought they could do something about it.  They were able to reconstruct his knee through tissue donation.  And the next year he climbed Mt. Everest.”

I think of that story often…especially when my friends and I are participating in the Donor Dash in Washington Park every summer.  What if I’m walking next to that man (who, in reality, could probably out-walk me and my original knees)?  What if so many people hadn’t volunteered to be organ donors and there were less people enjoying that beautiful day with their families?

What if I’m walking next to someone who is there because of my husband?

I miss him every day.  Every day I wonder what my life would be like if he could be here.  Would he be just as annoyed as I was the day I walked into my kitchen and saw green peas stuck to my ceiling, or would he have thought that was a cute and endearing thing for my son to do?  Would he have laughed when he heard my 3-year-old say “Dammit” under her breath as she was working on a particularly challenging wooden puzzle, or would he have punished her?  Would we have had our usual burgers and mini-golf date on our wedding anniversary last year or would we have splurged on Mexican food and bowling?

These are questions I can’t answer.

What I do know is that every morning when I wake up, I remind myself that there is a young father in Colorado Springs who is playing with his kids and living a life that a few years ago he didn’t know he could have had.  That’s because organ donation provided him with my husband’s heart, which could keep going even though his body couldn’t.

And that makes me have a good day.

Give your driver’s license the accessory it’s been waiting for!  Register to be an organ donor and get that heart in the corner.  It distracts people from the number that says your weight!

Catherine Tidd is a writer, widow and mother of three.  She is the founder of www.theWiddahood.com, a free peer support website dedicated to anyone who has lost a significant other and has a Facebook peer support page under the name Widow Chick.  Along with being published in several books on grief and renewal, Catherine is also a humorous motivational speaker who focuses on ” finding joy in a life you weren’t expecting.”  She is also a volunteer speaker with the Donor Alliance of Colorado.

Catherine
Author: Catherine

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Comments
  • comment avatar Jaime Swartzendruber April 6, 2011

    I can only imagine what a blessing it would be to need an organ and find a match – and the mixed feelings that might come from that experience. I do know what it is like to be saved by another’s donation. I went from loosing consciousness due to internal bleding to full recovery thanks to someone who made a choice to give blood. I’m forever thankful. Your husband is a hero.

  • comment avatar Amber Johnson April 6, 2011

    I think I’m an organ donor but have never been sure. I’ll head on over to the registry just to confirm. Great post!

  • comment avatar Lori Lavender Luz April 6, 2011

    My driver’s license has a big ol’ heart and a Y on it. It’s like the ultimate in reduce/reuse/recycle.

    Kudos to you for all you do on this issue, Catherine.

  • comment avatar Catherine T April 6, 2011

    Thank you all so much for your comments. I think many people don’t realize that it’s actually such a comfort for the donor families to know that their loved one has helped others in such an amazing way. It doesn’t have to be “life saving”…what’s important is that it’s “life changing.”

    And Lori…I love a non-profit with a sense of humor. Any organization that has t-shirts that say “Recycle Yourself”…I’m on board!! :>)

  • comment avatar Crystal Cargill April 6, 2011

    A wonderful and moving post. I still can’t imagine the pain of losing a family member. From the time my daughter, Melia, was born I have feared losing her, but I was spared that pain by a courageous family like yours. My daughter was 8 months old when she had her liver transplant, and she just celebrated her four year anniversary. We are blessed to be in contact with her donor family to get to experience even more of their selfless love and grace.

    Thank you for doing the work you do. I know it is that much more powerful coming from a donor family member, and that makes a real difference to those who wait and to the helpless family members who love them.

  • comment avatar Catherine T April 8, 2011

    Crystal…

    Thank you so much for your comment. You’re absolutely right…hearing recipient stories makes me feel something I just can’t explain. I remember meeting a recipient for the first time…it was like a whole new world opened up to me. I’m so glad to hear that your daughter is doing well. What a terrible experience that had to be! I can’t imagine going through something like that with one of my children…especially as a baby.

    Thank you so much for reaching out. Your comment meant so much to me.

  • comment avatar Crystal Cargill April 11, 2011

    Thanks, Catherine. Maybe we’ll run into you at the Donor Dash this year! We’ll be wearing buttons that say, “In memory of angel Sebastian/In honor of Melia.”

    http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/meliacargill

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