Organ donation saves lives, even as the donor loses theirs. April is National Donate Life Month. It’s designed to encourage people to register to be organ donors and to talk to their families about it. But few people outside of hospital staff see the process in action.
I’ve recently been spending a lot of time in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit of a local hospital. A friend had a heart attack, coded and was revived. This is heavy stuff, experiencing a life and death situation. Luckily my friend had done advance medical directives, estate planning and funeral planning. You definitely want to have all of those things in place when a medical crisis hits.
The Walk of Honor
While keeping vigil at the hospital, I noticed a crowd of nurses and other staffers lined up along the corridor in the ICU. What was going on?
One of the ICU patients who was not going to survive was about to be taken to have their organs harvested. The hospital personnel had gathered for a Walk of Honor. They were there to salute this person’s gift of life. I joined the silent crowd.
A team of what seemed like a dozen medical personnel wheeled the patient through the unit. The person’s ebbing life was still supported with multiple IV drips and a portable vital signs monitor. All eyes focused on the crowd moving this person to organ harvesting surgery. Silent tears welled in the eyes of many. I put my hand over my heart.
This hospital’s staff does this Walk of Honor salute with every patient who opts to donate their organs.
One Organ Donation Story
Connie Diamond received a life-saving liver transplant. During National Donate Life Month, she wanted to share her story through this letter she wrote to the family of the donor.
Dear Donor Family,
When I awoke in the intensive care unit after the transplant surgery, I remember the nurse asked me, “How do you feel?” I said, “I feel grateful,” and I cried tears of joy.
After numerous diagnostic tests, a team of transplant specialists placed me on the transplant list over a year ago. My liver deteriorated to end stage liver failure due to a non-alcoholic auto immune disease called Primary Biliary Cirrhosis. I had complications which resulted in several hospitalizations. Transplant was my only viable treatment, my only hope.
In May, I was given the green light by the transplant team to relocate to Arizona for several months to be readily available for an organ donor match. I flew out to Arizona immediately, by myself, packing a bag big enough to fill with hope, optimism, positivity, and determination. I lit prayer candles. I opened the window coverings so I could see the sunrise on a new day of hope for a donor liver. I kept my cellphone fully charged and placed it on my chest as I slept. I met some special people who had transplants and were recovering. They became my angels while I waited for “the call.”
I am a 70-year-old youthful grandma and proud adoptive, single mother of accomplished twin girls, now age 34: Lauren, a registered nurse, and Jennifer, an honor student in Chemical and Biological Engineering. I also have a precious granddaughter, Maggie, 9 years old, my swim buddy and joy of my life!
While I waited for an opportunity for a transplant, I prayed and maintained a positive attitude. I readied myself to be physically and mentally strong. A driving force that kept me holding on was my wish to be able to attend my daughter Lauren’s wedding in California. August 2, “the call” came and I knew the angels were circling. I made a miraculous recovery and was discharged in record time. Less than two weeks later, on September 10th, I walked my daughter down the aisle with her dad.
I count my blessings every day, and every day think of you and your loved one who gave me this gift of life. I once had a vibrant career and I was forced into retirement, but now I feel like I have more to do in this life, a bigger purpose, and I feel compelled to give back.
With every beat of my heart, I live in gratitude for this precious gift of life from a beautiful loving soul and family. May you have solace in knowing that your loved one’s organ saved my life.
Make Your Wishes Known
National Donate Life Month (NDLM) was established by Donate Life America and its partnering organizations in 2003. Observed in April each year, National Donate Life Month helps raise awareness about donation, encourage Americans to register as organ, eye and tissue donors, and to honor those that have saved lives through the gift of donation.
If you decide to become an organ donor, talk to your loved ones about what it means to you to make this life-giving choice. They are going to be the ones who have the final say once you are terminal.