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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Our experience with Gift of Life

My wife and I had our own experience with gift of life recently. After her mother passed away unexpectedly from a brain aneurism, my wife and her three siblings decided her mother would want to do this.

They decided that even though her mother stated she would not want to donate her organs. She came to that conclusion because when she was a student she watched the gift of life take organs from a patient, and for some unknown reason the organs ended up being wasted. So that gave my wife's mother a sour taste about the idea of donating.

However, when the occasion came up, my wife said, "You know, an irony about this is that while this is our time of grieving, seven or eight people could be celebrating right now."

So the "reasonable" decision was made to trump their mother's decision. I remember watching over this discussion. Here four siblings in their 20s were standing around the lifeless body of their mother who was still on a ventilator making decisions people in their 20s normally don't have to make these days.

Back in the 18th century every family had death experiences. It was common for people in their 20s to have their parents die. It was common for infants to be born dead. In fact, at the time of Jesus 50% of children didn't make it to adulthood. Yet, thanks to modern wisdom and medicine, we just don't see death as often anymore.

So here my wife and her siblings were facing death for the first time. And a few days later the nurse came to my wife and said, "You know, I've seen many people die in the past year, and you are only one of four who decided to do the gift of life without consulting the gift of life first. I'm very impressed."

I recently talked to the gift of life representative here at Shoreline, and he said the law has it that a nurse or doctor is not allowed to approach a family about gift of life. However, if a person is close to dying, or even if the doctor thinks a person might die, the gift of life has to be called. Then it's up to the gift of life representative to approach the family. They are trained to do it.
Plus I imagine there might be a conflict of interest for the nurses and doctors trying to save a life to be coaching on Gift of Life.

So he said there are many people who decide to give to the gift of life, only a few do it without first being consulted. However, my wife is a nurse. She's also quite smart and reasonable.

My dad had a similar experience when his brother passed away after he hit his head as a result of a car accident. He was on his way to our house, and he lived only a mile away. All he had to do was cross the highway. He was teaching his 15 year old daughter to drive a stick shift. It was Memorial weekend. He was taking apples to our house to feed the deer.

The Jeep stalled at the intersection. Uncle Ted, who always wore a seatbelt, just unhooked the seatbelt because he was going to switch seats with his daughter. Yet just then the jeep was hit on the driver's side by an 88 year old driver.

The other driver wasn't going fast, and the hit wasn't hard, but just enough to knock uncle Ted out of the side of the Jeep where he hit his head on the curb. Dad was a member of the fire department, and ironically he was the first on the scene. He said Tad was talking to him, or screaming, "It hurts, Bob. Help me!"

This was back in 1989. This was back when the emergency helecopters were new. The Big Hospital up north just got one. My uncle was going to be the first passenger. He needed to have his head tapped to relieve pressure, but he had to be transported to the Big Hospital -- and fast.

Well, dad said the bed he was on didn't fit in the helecopter, so they had to wheel Ted back into the emergency room. It wasn't for another hour before they got him in the helecopter. By the time Ted arrived at the Big City Hospital it was too late to tap. Two days later he was pronounced brain dead.

Tad's wife asked dad what to do about organ donation. Dad said to her that Ted loved people and he would love to do this. Tae would be very happy with that decision. Yet his wife was scared and said, "But I can't do that."

So my uncle took his organs with him. That's fine. Yet back then the wisdom wasn't what it is today. Today we know that organ donation works. It saves lives. Grandkids and kids will be able to spend some more years with the 57 year old grandma who received the lungs of my mother in law (she was only 50).

Before this experience I personally was leary about donating my organs. However, when I was filling out the paperwork to get my new Michigan drivers license, and the lady asked me if I'd like to be a donor, I found myself saying, "yes!"

Now I know that little red "donor" next to a red heart over my picture (a much better picture than my last one I must add) has no legal significance, yet it might help someone make the decision later down the road. If something happens to me, I certainly don't want my organs to be buried with me. I won't need them in Heaven.


1 comment:

kerri said...

amen to that, my friend!
i've been an advocate for organ donation since i was about fifteen. [i was the one who showed up with a stack of organ donor cards to pass around after we discussed organ donation in grade 11 biology, hoping people would give them a glance over].

whenever it comes up, i have the organ donation discussion with people i know. without a doubt, my mom and various friends KNOW that if something ever happens to me, they need to say YES if they ever come to making that decision on my behalf. i think after the experience of my dad's friend dying while waiting for a liver transplant, my parents finally understand and feel the same way as i do.
when i was eleven, my twelve year old friend died from a heart condition--while in that case her vial organs couldn't be saved, her parents made the decision to give the gift of sight to someone in need, since parts of the eyes can be donated even after the vital organs stop functioning.

great post, and i hope it inspires somebody to think about organ donation differently.