January 04, 2010

PSA: Talk

They had an article in yesterday's paper about a gentleman I do not know, but who is very well known in my work circle, who received a heart transplant in November. It saved his life. He has three kids.

He is 39.

And it made me wonder, other than faith, why do people resist being organ donors?

I don't get it.

As soon as I got my Driver's License at aged 16, I signed the Organ Donor forms and had them stamp Organ Donor in the corner of my Driver's License.


There was never any doubt.

Why would I want to die without giving someone else the ability to live?

It makes no sense to me.

And that brings me to a couple stories here... one of them personal, and one of them not.

Starting with 'the not', I was at a meeting about 12 years ago for a women's organization I'm in, and the speaker was a woman, looking back she was probably in her mid to late 40s, and she spoke to us about organ donation.

This was HER cause. She was going all over and speaking where people would have her and she was fortunate to have been blessed with fantastic orator skills. She was fascinating, never boring, full of facts... she was wonderful.

She didn't speak as a recipient. This was not a woman who had the kidney of another in her body or the receving end of a cornea transplant.


This was a woman who was the mother of... a donor.

Hearing her speak, listening to her story, it has 'haunted me' for lack of a better phrase. It has a home in my memory box, and I have told her story so many times and also use one of her phrases.

Her son died in a motorcycle accident. Hooked to life support, he was brain dead, but his strong young heart kept beating. She was devastated and she said that's when she was approached by the doctor, who was 12 years old, and he looked at his feet, and he shifted his weight and he nervously looked to her and finally she said, "What do you need?" and he eventually stammered, asking her if she'd like her son to be an organ donor.

Her response? It was along the lines of, "You were afraid to ask me that? There is NOTHING you could have said to me that is worse than 'your son is dead'. NOTHING. Asking me if he would be an organ donor is is nothing..." And with that, she signed the papers and her son's heart, liver, kidneys, corneas, and any other viable organs I may have left out, went to help others live and see.

I carry her story with me often, knowing she was right, hoping I would be so strong, praying I never have to find out, and seeing an angel... who better to speak on organ donation than a mother who has seen the worst of the worst?

And it is from her I took the expression about the 12 year old. If you recall, I asked the guys I worked with the other day when we started to hire 12 year olds. It is an expression I use frequently referring to young doctors and such.

Anyway, many women that day signed up to be organ donors. She really hammered it home.

But that brings me to my personal story.

It was a day short of ten years ago; my mother in law had had a massive cerebral hemorrage. Not understanding the full depths of what we were looking at, the family had her hooked to life support to determine if there was anything that could be done. Could brain surgery bring her back?

It wasn't long before the answer came back NO. That's another whole awful story, but eventually it was realized and we were left standing bedside making decisions before the proverbial plug was pulled.

My husband and his family included me and the other 'in-laws' in the decision making. All family meetings included me and the other spouses, which I thought was pretty amazing as I'm not sure I'd have been so open. We didn't have the final authority in decision making, but we were consulted for our opinions... perhaps we saw something they did not? Perhaps we'd had a discussion with her that they didn't know of? Perhaps our not being so emotionally vested gave us a different perspective? (Yes, we loved her, but she was NOT our mother. It is different... it is.)

And so I found myself at my mother in law's bedside, stroking her hair, my father in law beside me and my two sisters-in-law standing on the other side of him, with the last standing at Ma's feet.

I looked up and said to Lee, "Was she an organ donor?"

Lee shook her head. In exasperation she said, "Bou, Dee and I have looked through her pocketbook. We looked in her wallet. It's not even on her driver's license. Don't you think it would at least be there?"

Speaking from experience I replied, "No, it would definitely be there."

Dee chimed in, "It's not like her to not do something like be an organ donor. She was a huge environmentalist and so giving." (Dee is a hippy.)

Lee was thinking and finally replied, "The only thing I can think of is that she thought it was against Catholiscm because for so long it was."

I looked at them both and said, "Well, as family, you can sign it. Call the doctor in and you can have her organs donated. If you think it would make her happy, you can sign."

At that point, my father in law, who had been sitting there quietly never saying a word, SHRIEKED, "FINE! IF YOU WANT TO CUT HER UP, JUST DO IT! FINE!"

The room went quiet, with only the rythmic sound of the life support system. I looked at Lee with both eyebrows raised, she and Dee looked back at me wide eyed, and I said, "Well, I guess that settles that..."

And Lee said, "Yup, so much for organ donation..." and that... was... that.

Looking back, the doctors would probably have said no anyway. A 74 year old woman is not exactly prime donor material.

I use this story, however, to illustrated the importance of TALKING.


Think about organ donation.

And should you think this is something you would want, sign up or at least... TELL YOUR FAMILY.

You could save a life...

Posted by Boudicca at January 4, 2010 12:07 PM

My mom used to hate when I put the little sticker on my drivers license saying "organ donor" because she thought it meant the doctors wouldn't work as hard to save me. Ignorance.

I have it on my license. The people closest to me know. Hell, I won't be able to use it...give it to someone who can. They won't get a gall bladder out of me though...but please take my eyes...I paid $3000 for lasik...make it last! ;-)

Posted by: Sissy at January 4, 2010 11:54 PM

I have made it clear that I am an organ donor, and I have a living will that makes it clear I should be unplugged.

Posted by: wRitErsbLock at January 5, 2010 09:08 AM

Bou - Good post, and I commend you. But you've sort of misplaced the emphasis. Whether you have a donor card or not is immaterial. The decision belongs to those who are with you when you die. Not you. Not a card in your wallet.

You can speak to your friends and family about your wishes. You can carry the donor card. But if push comes to shove, and your loved one(s) can't agree to the donation, it won't happen.

Posted by: kay at January 5, 2010 10:41 AM

Bing, bing, bing ...

Sissy has the answers to your "why won't people donate organs"

People in my family have stated that myth quite a few times.

And why won't families talk about it with each other? Because they might jinx themselves or their family member and end up dying.

My family has some wierd phobia about talking about death, dying and the deceased. Once you die in my family it's like you no longer exist. It's quite creepy.

Posted by: Quality Weenie at January 5, 2010 10:46 AM

12 year olds as doctors - my dad has had heart issues for a while now. The last several times, when sitting around the hospital with my mom, she has taken to referring to the cardiologists as either Skippy or Cubby. I live in fear one of us will slip and actually call these docs that to their faces. ;~)


Posted by: TxAFbrat at January 5, 2010 11:27 AM

I'm a donor, even on the marrow list - the hub is a donor - all the kidlets old enough to drive are donors. Though I expect they would reject the cancer survivor's organs she is willing if they'll take 'em. And we All know how we all feel on the subject.

Posted by: patti at January 5, 2010 04:59 PM

My husband and I were just talking about this last night. I am an organ donor and have been since I first got my driver's license. My husband is one too. But, what got us talking about it, is that his mother stated that she wants to be an organ donor. She is 79. She said someone told her if she did that, they would cremate her for free. She wants to do it to save money not lives.

Posted by: Sticks at January 5, 2010 07:13 PM

Kay- No, I placed the emphasis of this post in the right place. If people don't talk about it, there is no way their wishes can be followed. NONE. Whether the living choose to ignore it is a whole other issue, and not the point of my post. The dead cannot control that. The dead, before they die, CAN however control who knows what about their wishes.

The living can do whatever they want. Case in point, my mother in law wanted to be cremated. She is not. She specifically asked to be cremated and WE ALL KNEW IT. However, my father in law in a fit shrieked, "FINE! IF YOU WANT TO JUST BURN HER BODY, BURN IT!" And so now her remains... are in a frickin' casket, in a vault, awaiting a matching coffin... because THAT is the way HE wants to go.

I personally think we should cremate him just for spite when it's time... but that's just me...

Posted by: Bou at January 5, 2010 10:16 PM

Great post Bou! My brothers and I are all organ donors, and also regular blood donors. It is so important to spread the word. Thanks for doing so in such an eloquent fashion.

Posted by: Mary at January 5, 2010 10:23 PM

The idea that part of me could save someone's life... or give them sight... or improve that person's life in any way, once I no longer have use for it, is a very compelling one. It's the greatest gift you can give, and it costs you nothing. The only reason to not be an organ donor is if some sort of infectious agent is present that contraindicates it.

Anyone who argues that organ donation violates the dignity of the deceased is missing the point. Nothing is more dignified than helping your fellow human being.

Yes, I am an organ donor. Or a prospective one, anyway. For the time being, I plan to continue using the ones I have. Meanwhile, SWMBO and I continue to donate blood and platelets...

Posted by: Elisson at January 7, 2010 09:41 PM