Consider this New Year's Resolution
Diane Y. Chapman is an inspirational and motivational speaker and author in Aliso Viejo, California. She is also the creator and publisher of the QuotePourri® Inspirations gift line. Her website is www.dichapman.com.
It's December 30, and I'm counting my blessings. In the interest of full disclosure, I will admit to you that I have to count my blessings often. There are many days when it's literally what keeps me going – that, and a steadfast belief that I am / we are all on this planet for a reason. The most blessed among us are those who figure out their reason for being, and come to accept it wholeheartedly. My reason, as far as I can tell, appears to be about looking for ways to help others navigate the metaphorical rocky shores and tumultuous waters of life, and then find ways to articulate the experience and the lessons through words. Not that this raison d'etre has engendered in me a doleful demeanor, or a brooding personality. Rather, it has infused in me a love of books like SimpleTruths' The Best Way Out is Always Through, which gives me the premise and the inspiration to tell you a story from my own personal book of life.
As you finish reading my story, I hope you'll join me and consider taking action on a simple resolution for 2010. It's a small action, really, when you consider the miniscule amount of energy it takes to set the wheels in motion, but it will ultimately result in a HUGE impact on someone's life. What is it? It's the commitment to organ donation, and it can be as simple as signing the back of your driver's license, and visiting your state's donor registry online.
As of December 15, 2009, there were 105,280 individuals who desperately await organ transplantation to give them a new beginning. Many of these patients are children, teenagers, and young adults. Between January and September 2009, only 21,423 organ transplants occurred, due to a tragic shortage of donors. There is a lack of education and few initiatives to encourage Americans to think about signing up on the donor registry. One organ donor can save eight lives upon his or her death. You could even save lives now, by simply donating blood, and finding out more about being a "living" donor. At the end of this story, I have listed facts about organ donation, and websites that make it easy to find out more information.
A Liver Crisis - My Family's Story
As for me, and my decision to become an organ donor, well ... several years ago, my 45 year-old brother Bob was diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma, an aggressive and deadly cancer of the liver bile duct. Bob was a man full of life, with two teenage children, a very successful business, and the author of three books about the IT industry featured in bookstores. He had no habits of cigarettes, alcohol or drugs. He loved exercise, and hiked and camped with his son. His cancer prognosis sent shockwaves through our family. Upon diagnosis, he was given two weeks to live.
But, Bob was a fighter, and asked doctors to start treatments that could potentially extend his life. He miraculously went into remission, and a year later, began the process of applying for a possible organ transplant. Because he had responded so well to his cancer treatment, and his cancer had not spread, his doctors were optimistic that he might be a candidate for a liver.
Bob and I shared an office where we conducted our respective businesses, writing for hours each day to meet our deadlines. I'll never forget the moment my brother received the call from the medical board, after his long wait. He had spent months seeing doctors all over the country, researching the Internet about cancer treatments, and communicating with transplant waiting list officials. Because the demand for lifesaving organs far outweighs the organs available, to maintain an ethical waiting list every applicant is scrutinized in categories of need and potential outcome. There are too few organs to go around. If two individuals who need new livers to survive are being compared for inclusion on the transplant list, they will be evaluated for urgency, yes, but also for statistical survival outcomes. The survival outcomes for cholangiocarcinoma patient transplants were not encouraging, but we were hopeful as we awaited their decision.
I heard the enthusiasm in my brother's voice as he greeted his caller from the board. Then he became quiet, so quiet I didn't notice when he hung up the phone. What I saw and heard next I will never forget. My brother's sobs resounded throughout the room, as he buried his face in his hands. I instinctively grabbed him in a bear hug, hardly able to breathe as I sensed what was said in that call. "They can't take me. I'm going to die!" he sobbed against me.
Six months later, on the day he died, I knew I had to become a donor. I had to make his death mean something powerful. As BJ Gallagher says in her "Tips for Tough Times," in congruence with my personal beliefs and values about family, creativity, community and spirituality, I had to put grief into action. For me, that meant studying the landscape of organ donation, in all its forms. What I learned was amazing, and I hope it will motivate you to take action as well.
A Bone Marrow Crisis – My Friend's Story
Let's go back to my statement about how I'm a firm believer that we're all here for a reason. So, when my husband called from work one afternoon in 2004 to tell me that his dear friend and associate Bob Latiano had been diagnosed with mantle cell lymphoma, and would need a bone marrow transplant, I realized that I could at least converse with Bob and his family about the process. In addition to my family's ordeal, I had a close friend who had been saved by a donor bone marrow transplant many years ago.
Bob Latiano is blessed with a long marriage to Karen, a beautiful, soft-spoken woman, and their two vivacious daughters, Jamie and Jill, and an eight-year-old granddaughter, Cambria. He has always considered himself the luckiest guy in the world, surrounded by the lovely ladies in his life. An avid golfer, basketball referee, and all-around sportsman, Bob noticed one day that he had a decided puffiness in his groin area. Examining himself in the mirror, he thought he was getting a hernia. One month later, he noticed some swelling on the other side of his groin. This time, he decided he should see his doctor. The doctor took a look, palpated the area, and point blank said to Bob, "I hate to tell you, but this could be lymphoma."
Within two hours of seeing his doctor for what Bob thought was a hernia, he was on the phone trying to tell his wife Karen that he had been diagnosed with cancer, with a prognosis of only one year to live, unless he underwent a bone marrow transplant. The two cried, and then began their journey to save his life together. Karen and Bob both spoke candidly with me about the devastation the news sent through their family. "But as soon as the shock wore off," Karen told me, "we worked together as a team to make sure that we didn't lose focus. It's amazing to find out how much strength you have. I really held on to my husband because I knew we could get through it if we did it together." Their younger daughter Jill was emphatic that her father was going to someday walk her down the aisle, and hold the children she hopes to have. Jamie wanted Cambria to know her grandfather. "We agreed as a family that we were willing to do whatever it took to give Bob more life."
Bob was able to have an autologous transplant, which means that the transplant team re-infused his own blood stem cells after treating his disease with highly toxic chemotherapy. His stem cells had been frozen in liquid nitrogen when they were harvested. Since the chemo kills both white and red cells, Bob also had to have two blood transfusions—with blood donated from a blood bank. An anonymous donor contributed to saving his life through the simple process of blood donation.
Organ and tissue donation includes much more than our organs themselves, harvested when someone dies. Yes, hearts, lungs, livers, kidneys, intestines and pancreases are sought for donation; but also corneas, middle ear components, skin, heart valves, bones, cartilage, and more. Also in huge demand are blood and platelets, bone marrow, blood stem cells, and umbilical cord blood stem cells, all of which are donated by living donors. Your healthy body can easily regenerate blood and bone marrow after donation. There are also ways to donate single kidneys, liver segments, lobes of the lung, and portions of the pancreas as living donors. More information can be found at the National Living Donor Assistance Center website.
Bob Latiano admits that his transplant forever changed him. "The truth is the transplant gave me another chance at life. I have made a cognitive choice to be a better person for my wife, daughters, and granddaughter." This past summer, I had the privilege of officiating at the wedding of Bob's daughter Jill. As he walked her down the aisle, I marveled at the miracle of his presence, so full of life, and so full of happiness for his daughter and her groom.
In Mac Anderson's book Learning to Dance in the Rain, there is a quote from Carol Pearson, who said, "There is often in people to whom 'the worst' has happened an almost transcendent freedom, for they have faced 'the worst' and survived it." That's why I count my blessings, to remind myself that I have survived and thrived after a horrendous trauma. As Willa Cather said, "Some things we learn in calm, some in storm." My brother gave me one good reason for becoming a committed organ and blood donor. The Latianos gave me five more reasons: Bob, Karen, Jamie, Jill and Cambria. Jill's wedding gave me one more: her new husband.
The opportunity for organ donation is one that is ripe with hope. I'll give my heart and liver to someone who needs it should I die suddenly. I'll donate blood as a "living" donor now. In doing so, I'm enriching my soul, and giving the gift of new beginnings and second chances. It's a great New Year's Resolution, don't you think? I hope you'll join me.
* You might find some of the facts about organ donation and transplantation compelling enough to spur you into action:
Start by going to www.OrganDonor.gov to learn more and take action to become a donor.
The national waiting time for a new heart is 230 days, and 1,068 days for a new lung. Hearts and lungs must be harvested and transplanted within a six hour window.
The waiting time for a liver is 796 days. Livers are viable for transplantation for 12 to 24 hours.
Waiting time for a kidney is 1,121 days, with an organ viability of up to 72 hours; for a pancreas, waiting time is 501 days, and organ viability is only 12 to 24 hours.
Most religions support organ and tissue donation as a charitable act of giving.
There is no cost incurred for organ donation, and no one is too young or too old. People of all ages and medical histories are potential donors. Doctors evaluate each donor at time of death, and determine which organs are viable to transplant.
While a signed donor card and a driver's license with an "organ donor" designation are legal documents, organ and tissue donation are usually discussed with family members prior to the donation. To ensure that your family understands your wishes, it is important that you tell your family about your decision to donate life. If you are under 18, your parents will need to give their permission for you to participate in the organ donation program.
If you are an organ donor who becomes sick or injured and admitted to the hospital, the number one priority is still to save your life. Your status as an organ donor does not supercede this. Organ donation can only be considered after brain death has been declared by a physician.
Organ donation in no way disfigures your body. Donated organs are removed surgically, in a routine operation similar to gallbladder or appendix removal. Donation does not change the appearance of your body for a funeral service.
Minorities overall in the U.S. have a high need for organ donors, as some diseases of the kidney, heart, lung, pancreas and liver are found more frequently in ethnic populations than in the general population. Similar blood type is essential in matching donors to recipients, and because certain blood types are more common in ethnic minority populations, increasing the number of minority donors can increase the frequency of minority transplants. For more information, visit www.mottep.org, the website of the National Minority Organ Tissue Transplant Education Program.
Finally, should you be wondering, yes, selling organs for transplantation in the U.S. is illegal, per the National Organ Transplant Act, Public Law 98-507. This law was passed to level the playing field for all Americans who are in need of an organ transplant for survival.