In my career when I worked at a hospital that was designated as a transplant center, I cared for multiple patients that received heart transplants and lung transplants. One time in particular, I was taking care of a gentleman who received a heart from an organ donor.
What struck me the most while caring for him one day, was looking out through his ICU floor-to-ceiling glass wall and right into the eyes of “buddies” from the heart failure unit, there were three of them, all waiting for heart transplants themselves. They were visiting the patient, accompanied by their nurses, from the coronary care unit. They waved to each other through the glass doors. Some smiling and cheering, some with tears. As I smiled, I couldn’t help but ponder how many of them would live long enough to experience their own transplant day. A chance for a whole new life, after another’s death. Just like a young adult with cystic fibrosis that I cared for who could actually breathe clearly without effort after receiving a lung transplant.
I have a friend who received a corneal transplant and can once again see thanks to the ultimate gift of giving. She is grateful every day for her new gift of sight. Can you even imagine what that must be like?
As part of my quest to educate you about advance directives and encourage you to complete your own advance directives, one of the choices we talk about is organ donation. I have been at the bedside of many, many patients when we perform the tests to determine brain death and find that the patient meets all the criteria. These are the kind of tests that no one wants their loved one to pass. Yet depending on the circumstances and if the patient told their family of their wishes for organ donation, signed their driver’s license and registered with the organ donation registry, the family can have a range of beliefs and emotions about donation, they might not honor your choices. This is why conversation about organ donation is very important.
Some families have talked this through and are comforted in knowing a part of their loved one lives on in another. Families often express that their loved one was a caring and giving person and would want to help someone if they were in this situation. They would want to offer the gift of life for a stranger after their death.
I met a woman last week whose sister received a liver transplant and was comfortable discussing organ donation. As she put it, she was in favor of being “recycled” if given the opportunity. That was one way of putting it and it brought a smile to my face.
April is National Donate Life Month.
For more information about organ donation, please visit this link: https://www.donatelife.net/
Please take a moment to hear from one of my dear friends about her experience with organ donation.
“The only gift is a portion of thyself.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson