Here we are—smack dab in the middle of the holiday season when we all have gifts on the brain.
But there’s one gift that over half of all Americans have overlooked.
I chose this gift years ago when I first got my driver’s license. At the time, I never expected it would become part of the core of my adult life.
I was also given this gift almost six years ago, two hours after my only sibling died unexpectedly right in front of my eyes—at the same hospital where I worked as a lung transplant coordinator.
As a prior critical care nurse, I had years of experience physiologically understanding death, fighting hard to help prevent it, and—when nothing else could be done—comforting patients through the end of it all.
I thought I knew death. But it wasn’t until after I watched the nurses perform CPR on my brother, until after I watched the respiratory therapist squeeze air from the bag attached to the breathing tube into his lungs, until after I watched the doctors stand there looking helpless, that I truly came to know death.
And two hours later, I came to understand the magnitude of the gift I chose years ago:
The same gift my brother had chosen.
The gift of organ and tissue donation.
The gift of life.
During this busy time of year, I’d love to encourage others to register as organ and tissue donors. The process is simple and can be done online in minutes. If we have time for Amazon Prime, we have time to potentially save a life.
Right now, the United Network for Organ Sharing, who manages the nation’s organ transplant system, reports there are 116,096 people waiting for a lifesaving transplant. This number does not include the many people in need of life enhancing and, in some cases, lifesaving tissues like corneas, heart valves, and skin.
That one day in January when I watched my brother die in the very same ICU where my patients, tethered to oxygen, were waiting for the gift of life, in the very same ICU where others died because time had run out and there were no organs available, the deep pain of loss did not just come knocking—it broke down my door.
But with it came a gentle phone call two hours later from a kind, soft-spoken man. It was the phone call that brought light to the darkest hour of my life. It was the phone call from a tissue donation coordinator.
Because my brother’s heart stopped so suddenly, he was not able to donate any of his organs, but his tissues were able to be recovered and used. Tissues include heart valves, bone, skin, ligaments, tendons, and corneas
(the clear lens of the eye; not the entire eye).
This was the phone call where I learned my brother would be able to help other people after his death. What
better legacy is there?
In the months after his death, I learned that his tissues had helped 117 people. Two people in North Carolina can now see because of the gift of his corneas. There is a woman in Pennsylvania who now has a healthier heart thanks to his heart valve. Then came the day I received a personal letter of gratitude from the woman who received one of his ligaments.
All of this because my brother made the decision to register himself as a donor.
I know he didn’t plan on dying six weeks after his thirtieth birthday. I know he didn’t plan on any of the above actually happening. But it did happen.
And eventually it will happen to us all. We will die—it’s a fact. Yet how many of us have made decisions surrounding the end of our lives?
Roughly 50 percent of Americans have registered themselves to be organ and tissue donors. So why haven’t the other half done so?
Many people unfortunately do not have accurate information surrounding the details of donation and are therefore fearful of being a donor. Some people believe misinformation they see on TV. Some people believe doctors won’t try to save their lives if they are donors. Some people don’t understand that almost all major religions support organ and tissue donation. Some people think they can’t have an open casket if they are donors. Some people want to be buried “whole.” Some people are not comfortable helping complete strangers. Some people have never stopped to think about it, and for others, facing their own mortality is painful so when they go to the DMV they check the “no” box.
There is an overwhelming number of people in this world who need our help. I hope that this holiday season we all choose to register as organ and tissue donors.
Go online or head to your state’s motor vehicle administration and sign up. Share your decision with your loved ones. Let them know what’s important to you in regards to end-of-life care.
Take it from someone who knows—this is a gift you’ll never regret giving.
Author: Emily Johnson
Image: Author’s own
Editor: Nicole Cameron
Copy Editor: Travis May
Social Editor: Waylon Lewis