…Heaven knows we need them here. Not sure if you’ve heard that slogan before. About 16 or 17 years ago, I had t-shirts, sweatshirts, pillows, all kinds of stuff with these words written on them. My Dad was on the waiting list for a liver transplant.
Organ donation is a very touchy subject for some people. Many support it, many don’t believe in it at all. It is a subject very near and dear to my heart, so I thought I would share my thoughts. My opinion is very biased, and based on my own experience, but if it can help to change the mind of one naysayer, then it can save the lives of many. So I’m happy to share it with you.
When we lose someone we love, especially in a situation of an accident, sometimes the shock and trauma overwhelm us and we are unable to think about anything except our loss and grief. Quite understandably. If a person dies and an organ donor card has been signed or a declaration has been made, it helps to take some of the guesswork out for the family. At least if the family knows the wishes of the deceased, it is easier for them to be followed. Often times, especially in the case of younger people, it is not known, not discussed. So when the family is asked, their first reaction is to refuse as they are overcome by grief and can not imagine doing that to their loved one.
I was 17 or 18 years old when my Dad was diagnosed with a liver problem. He had a condition that had resulted in a slow deterioration of the organ over what was probably several years, maybe several decades. His behaviour started to get very sporadic. He would get very confused and we started to really worry about him. My Mom finally took him into emergency. At first they thought it may have been a neurological problem due to his symptoms. Several tests later, we found out that it was in fact his liver. It was almost completely gone, and not removing the toxins from his body, therefore causing the confusion and erratic behaviour. It was a relief to know what the problem was, but opened up a bunch of new scary realizations for us. This was serious.
After a bunch more tests, and paperwork, and endless conversations with doctors, it was decided that he would be put on the organ transplant recipient waiting list. And so the wait began.
He was on the list for about a year. Twice we were called in as a back up. Meaning someone else needed the liver more than Dad did, but if for some reason that person wasn’t a match, then Dad could be given it. Both times it didn’t work out. Those times were bittersweet. We wanted him to have his new liver, but we also didn’t want it to be because someone else who needed it more couldn’t have it. So back home we went.
One night in May, Dad and I were home alone. He had been feeling a little off. We were sitting in the family room when suddenly he started heaving like he was going to throw up. I jumped up and ran from the room to get a pail or wastebasket for him. Imagine my shock when I came back in the room to find he had already thrown up a huge amount of blood. He sat there and looked at me, in shock I think. I got his shirt off him and got on the phone to find Mom. When I finally got a hold of her, she came right home and we picked up and headed into emerg with him.
They got him stabilized, and admitted into a room. It was scary, but seemed like it was going to be okay again – for a while anyway. I remember when my Mom and I went to the hospital, we figured we were going to take him home. We got to his room and were unable to find him. We waited, thinking they must have taken him down to do one of the many tests that they were doing on him all the time.
Finally we were able to find his doctor. He took us into a waiting room and told us that Dad had been sent down for an Endoscopy, where they put a scope down your throat to look around. The scope had triggered internal bleeding. He was currently in ICU in critical condition. He had moved from mid way up the waiting list to the very top. If they did not find a liver for him in the next few hours, we would have no other options. He would die.
I sat there and listened, but I was out of my body. We went down to the ICU waiting room, but I felt like I was in a bad movie or something. I couldn’t believe that this was happening to me. We finally were able to go in and see him, and I will never forget the sight of him in ICU. He was blown up, he had tubes and monitors coming everywhere out of him and attached to him. His mouth was open and there was something sticking out of it, which they told us was a balloon that they had inserted down his esophagus to keep the bleeding at bay.
My mother went to pieces. I just stood there. I wanted to comfort her, I wanted to react. I wanted to cry, or scream or something. All I could do was stand there and stare at him. The movie had just become a reality, and I had never felt so helpless in my life.
Later that night, they came to tell us that they had found a possible match in Saskatchewan. A team was flying out to get it as we spoke, and if all went well, they would operate on him the next day. It was again bittersweet – you are rejoicing as another family mourns. You are sitting around, waiting for someone to die, so that your loved one can live.
After an 8 hour operation, and a very slow, but steady recovery, my Dad is literally healthy as a horse today. His quality of life is good, he’s got a ton of doctors that keep an eye on him, which is awesome, and I feel like he will live to be a ripe old age. We were so lucky that if he was going to get sick, that it happened when it did, where it did, and the circumstances were in his favour. He literally got a second chance at life, and we are so grateful.
Because of the gift from someone who passed away, my Dad got to live. I’m sure that the family of this person were devastated, and yet they allowed this to happen. Because of this, my Dad was there to give me away at my wedding. He was there when my son was born and has forged an amazing relationship with him. If he had died that night, Nicholas never would have had the gift of his grandfather. He has 3 other grandchildren that would never have met him either. He has been around to celebrate his 60th, 65th, 70th Birthdays, and hopefully will be around for many more. All because one person, one family, said yes. What a truly wonderful thing to come out of a tragedy.
I urge you to think about it. I urge you to read about it and find out the wonderful things that can happen when you donate your organs. If you choose to donate, make it known. Tell your family, register for donation. Tell them why, and make it clear that these are your wishes, and they are to be followed.
If you’re on the fence, imagine yourself in the position where you have a loved one on the brink of death. Imagine yourself in a near-death situation. Your life or the life of your mother, father, sibling, or God forbid – child. After neurological death, there are 6 organs that can be donated. After cardiac death, 4. Up to 6 lives could be saved by the generosity of one person. One of those lives could be yours, or someone you love.
Once you’re gone, you’re gone. We all want to do something so that we’ll be remembered after we die. I don’t think that there is a greater gift that you can give to someone than the gift of life. Take it from someone who knows. That person will thank you for it, their children will thank you for it. Their grandchildren will too. I know when Nicholas is old enough to understand he will be grateful that someone took the time to sign their organ donor card and make it possible for his Grandpa to be in his life.