ARTICLE

How to save a life: the magic of organ donation

The first time I gave organ donation any kind of serious thought was when doctors were asking me, in the kindest way possible, if I would like to donate my organs if my open heart surgery went less than favorably.


When I turned 16, I passed my driving test (barely) on the first try. It was a no brainer when my friend?s mom, who ran the license bureau in Kahoka, asked if I wanted to be an organ donor. I had seen the heart symbol on both of my parents? driver?s license. Of course I?d do the same. And at 16, you believe you?re invincible. A year and a half later I was having to decide if I?d hold true to the promise I had declared on my license.


?Can I say which organs you can take?? I asked. The doctor nodded. ?Well, you probably don?t want my heart so everything except that.?


I didn?t just say yes because I had already made that vow, but because if my parents were to lose me, the only piece of comfort I thought I could give them was knowing that some other parent would be able to take their child home because of me.


My surgery went without a hitch. And each time I?ve moved and had to get a new license, I?ve made sure that little red heart with a green ribbon is on my license.


As you read this, more than 115,000 people are waiting on a transplant, according to the National Donate Life America website. Another individual is added to the list every 10 minutes. They are moms and dads, brothers and sisters, neighbors and friends. And since April is National Donate Life Month, I thought I?d tell you a little bit about my experience seeing the impact of organ donation.


?R? was not only my parent?s neighbor, he was also one of my dad?s childhood best friends. I grew up hearing tales of their adventures in the big town of Wayland, Mo. No matter the story, the underlying theme was that they had each other?s back. A few years ago, ?R? became very sick. His condition continued to decline until he was placed on the transplant list. He needed new lungs.


I remember my parents telling ?R? they would pray that he would receive a new set of lungs soon. ?R?s? thick mustache twitched. I knew, by the simple moment, that the comment had made him grimace. A few weeks later he and my dad were talking. ?R?s? eyes welled with tears. He knew that his life depended on receiving new lungs, but he knew what that meant ? that someone else would have died. I think that dichotomy of wishing to live, but not wanting another to die weighed heavily on ?R?.


Organ donations are a gift. The most stunning, spectacular and Earth-shattering gift a person can give. One person can save and heal more than 75 people, according to Donate Life America. Organ donations can save up to eight lives while tissue donations can help as many as 75 people.


I cried when ?R? came home for the first time after his transplant. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, filling his new lungs with that good ?ole Missouri air. It was like seeing a person be reborn. He and I have often talked about how incredible it is that we?ve been given a second chance at life ? him through a transplant and me via surgery. We?ve discussed the sense of duty we feel to make sure we take as much care of our gifts and live the lives we?ve been given as full as possible. As I?ve been able to thank my doctors, ?R? would like the chance to thank his donor?s family someday.


My friend ?C? has not been able to meet the people her mother helped, but she knows they?re out there. ?C? is technically my sister?s best friend, but after decades of being tied to the hip, she?s family. When ?C?s? mother unexpectatly passed, the family decided to donate her corneas.


Less than a year after ?C?s? mother?s death we were at the University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics. Why, I don?t remember, but because we were lost. we took turn after turn trying to find our way. Call it God?s plan or the Universe guiding our way, but we ended up standing, awe-stricken in front of a sign thanking cornea donors and ?C?s? mom?s name was right there, leaping off the page at us. I snapped a picture and texted it to ?C?. Her mother?s donation had given sight back to two different individuals. ?This makes me happy,? ?C? wrote back.


Recently, pop star Selena Gomez has spoken publicly about her struggles with Lupus, which ultimately led to a kidney transplant this summer.


At the same time her health was declining, so was one of my mom?s favorite bus kids. My mom is a school bus driver and although ?T? has been out of school for several years and now has a family of his own, he?s still one of my mom?s favorite ?kids.? ?T? has been living with Lupus, systemic autoimmune disease, where the immune system attack?s the body?s own organs and tissues, for years.


According to Mayo, Lupus can cause serious kidney damage, and kidney failure is one of the leading causes of death. ?T? was on this path. His family began a social media campaign to find him a donor, but they were having a difficult time. According to Donate life America, 22 people die each day waiting for an organ transplant. Thankfully, ?T? was not one of those statistics. Last month he received a phone call and hours later he had a new kidney.


I was elated when I heard ?T? had received a transplant. I confessed to my mom that I had thought about being tested to see if I was a match, but I had a lot of questions ? how do you find if you?re a match; would my insurance cover it; and would there be limitations to my life after donation. Kidney.org has all of the answers.


And kidney donation is not the only kind of living donation (when a living person donates an organ or part of an organ to another person) that can be made. Although kidney transplants are the most common, with advanced medical science, parts of other organs including the lung, liver and pancreas are now being transplanted from living donors.


Life is sometimes hard and we?re all faced with challenges. But it?s also miraculous and inspiring. As we steadily move through April and National Donate Life month, take a moment to think about what an incredible gift you can give to someone. Every time I walk down my parent?s driveway and see ?R? in his front yard, I think what a loving and incredible world we live in that someone saved my dad?s best friend.