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Stories of Hope: donor stories

Robin, donor mother

As Mother's Day draws near, I feel a sense of dread coming over me. May 13, 2001 will be 2 years since the death of my youngest son, Blake. On May 12th, Blake (15-years-old) and my older son Bryce (17-years-old) were involved in a car accident on the way to a high school soccer game. It was a devastating time for our community and especially for our family. That evening at the hospital, we were in shock when we were told that Blake was brain dead and would not survive. Bryce was still in intensive care and was scheduled for surgery later that night. The hospital was filled with teenagers, parents and our family. The love and support all of them gave us at the time was very comforting. It was proof that Blake had touched so many lives during his short 15 years and that Bryce would have the help he needed from all of us to recover.

When asked about organ donation, we just did not know what to do. We were not educated about organ donation and had never spoken with Blake about it. After discussing this decision with our family, we knew that we had to say yes! In life Blake was such a giving person, we knew that it would have been his choice to give in order to help others. He gave his family and friends love, laughter, friendship and joy, and we knew he would want to give someone else the opportunity to have a better life.

We have recently been in contact with one recipient, and we know that Blake's other two recipients are doing fine. That gives us some comfort in knowing that a miracle has come from our tragedy.

For the past year and a half I have been involved with our local donor service to help educate the public about organ donation, especially teenagers and their parents. Making organ donation a topic about LIFE not death is very important. Blake would have died from his injuries from the accident no matter what, but others are LIVING because of his donation.

In closing, I just want to encourage everyone that has been touched in some way by organ donation, recipient or donor family, to share their story with others. By sharing my story, I may be saving the life of a friend or family member in the future if they are ever in need of an organ transplant. I may even be saving my life or yours. Plus, how would I be able to ask someone else to say YES to donating their loved one's organs if we had not said yes ourselves?

P.S. Bryce has recovered from his injuries but our whole family is still dealing with the loss of a wonderful young man. I am so very thankful for Bryce and his sister Tricia every day.

Michele, donor sister

Three weeks ago my 18-year-old brother was killed in a car accident. Once the ICU Doctors told us he was gone, my family and I didn't think twice about donating his organs. My grief over his death is very strong, and it's very hard to admit that he isn't coming back. Two days after he died, the Donor Network called us told us that 70 people are going to benefit from my brother's death. So, for all the people out there who are on a list, your time will come. Unfortunately, my brother didn't have a choice in his death. But once he was gone, he helped so many people, and for all I know he's still living in you.

Jean, donor mother

On October 27, 1999, I received the phone call no parent wants to receive. I was told my 27-year-old son, Michael, had been in an automobile accident near his job. While being transported to the hospital with a head injury, he suffered a cardiac arrest. Being a former ICU nurse, I knew how seriously he was injured. What helped our family through those days at the hospital was knowing that Michael had chosen to become an organ donor in the event of his death; sharing that fact just two weeks prior while attending yet another family funeral.

This is not an easy subject for people to hear, but for those 76,000 people on the national waiting list, we are all mandated to talk to whoever will listen.

Claudia, donor mother

I am a Donor Mum. My son was killed by a drunk driver on May 16, 1999. He was a successful stockbroker and was engaged to be married. I gave all his organs and tissue. Up to 13 people live because of his gifts. Crippled children walk, and two women burned in a house fire are alive due to his tissue gifts.

Merry, donor mother

Following the loss of my husband and 2 1/2 year old son in an automobile accident caused by a drunk driver, I was able to donate my son's organs. That was over eight years ago and I am still so thankful that I was given the opportunity to donate Johnny's organs. My story does not end in a sad tragedy, but new life came from my tragedy. There are two children alive today because of the gift of organ donation.

M.A., living kidney donor

It has been 12 years since I gave one of my kidneys to my father. Our transplant experience allowed my father to live a very full life for eight more years after the operation. There are no words to describe the true value and bond that a transplant operation can bring to families and friends.

Lisa, donor mother

July 4th, 1998, my 24-year-old son James called to check up on how I was doing (my mother had died suddenly two days earlier). Oh God, if I had known this would be our last conversation, I would have memorized each word and burned it into my very soul!

Before going into work to wrap things up, he let me know he had arranged to take off the rest of the week and would see me later....If only I had kept him on the line longer...or shorter...if only!!! This will forever haunt me...I told him I loved him.... he said he loved me...and we said good-bye...and hung up the phone.

In less then an hour, our lives would be shattered forever by an 18-wheeler that was stopped and straddling two lanes on the highway. James' car went under the truck; another car hit him from behind. Our son was airlifted to the hospital with a 5-inch gash across his forehead down to his cheek, three skull fractures and every facial bone broken. He already had irreversible brain damage, which kept getting worse as his brain continued to swell. The doctors tried to prepare us on how he would look...but no amount of words could ever have described how he looked when we walked into that ICU room. My handsome son, who had been so intelligent and musically gifted, who had graduated school with honors, now lay so still and barely recognizable. Tubes were coming out from everywhere and in the background we heard the sadistic whoosh of the ventilator softly mocking us. An array of lights danced overhead on the monitor's screen. I was to learn what each number meant...and as each hour and day went by I dreaded looking up at the changing numbers, yet I dreaded not doing it either. James' brain continued to swell, his cranial pressure climbing. He was in as deep of a coma next to brain death as you can be.

THREE WEEKS EARLIER, while on the way to get his kittens their rabies shots, James and I had talked about a little girl on the news that was waiting to have a liver transplant and how important organ donation was. I had commented how terrible it had to be for her parents not knowing whether their child would live or die. "Look at how many people die every day in the United States," he said to me, "and I bet there would be one of them that could be a match for her. It's not like they need them anymore"

On July 9th, 1998 James was declared brain dead. There are no adjectives to convey my feelings on how I felt. No word too awful, or invented to explain to others my agony. To grasp how tormented you are seeing your child, once so alive (ALIVE!) well, you just can't.

We had already spoken to our other children on their feelings on donating James' organs and we were all in agreement. We requested for the hospital to get in touch with the transplant coordinator for us. After friends and family said their good-byes to him, I stayed in the room with him until the organ recovery team would get there in a few hours. I talked to James. I sang to him old and familiar hymns. I touched his face, his chest, his hands, knees and toes. I told him how we loved him so very much and how he was so special. I laid my head down on his chest and listened to the beat of his heart. A heart that had once been growing inside me and grew up and lived too short of a life. I felt the warmth of his body and knew it would not be too much longer. I wanted time to stand still, or at least go very slowly...it went all too fast. Then it was time for me to leave the room...forever.

While the story of James' life on earth ends here, for others the stories will continue, thanks to organ donation and transplants. As he had helped others during his life, James will continue to help others through his death.

A little six-year-old boy regained his eyesight and an ex-fireman has a younger and healthy heart. I have corresponded by mail and e-mail with the 37-year-old man who has one of James' kidneys. I hope someday we can meet each other, but right now we live too far away to do that.

Last year at the annual Giving and Living Celebration at the Southwest Transplant Alliance, we met a woman who was 47 and near death when she received James' liver and other kidney. She told me when she was in her coma for over two months, she felt like she was on a ship in the middle of an ocean alone. She could hear people talking but they were far away. How can I adequately describe the feeling when we met? She was like meeting a long lost relative that I had never met before. It was wonderful and overwhelming. She is a precious lady who has had to battle with a tremendous amount of physical problems and has a young child at home.

Since James died, this shadow of sorrow sits on my shoulder, always there, whispering in my ear that he is dead. No one "gets over" the death of his or her child. We learn to live with the pain and adjust to this new normal way of life. I learned to work the computer, joined a monthly grief support group and joined an online support group of other donor moms. I also have become close friends with another mother whose 19-year-old son died two years ago and was also an organ donor. There was an instant bond between the two of us that bereaved parents all share. We had talked on the computer for seven months and then met each other last year at the Giving and Living Celebration, not knowing the other was going to be there.

I cried with her on the second anniversary of her son Jason's death out at the cemetery where he is buried, and now I am going to be able to rejoice with her at her up and coming wedding.

I am able to give newly bereaved parents a ray of hope that someday they will learn to smile again, for in the beginning it is impossible to believe.

Like many awaiting a transplant, or receiving one, my friend battled with guilt about the way she would get a kidney and pancreas (which she did, a year ago and is in wonderful health today) I told her it is not like she was praying for God to be a hit man and kill someone for her. It is just that when the inevitable happened, and someone died, that they would be organ donors and be a match for her. I told her my son James would have died whether or not we had donated his organs or not.

Donor families don't want recipients to feel guilty. Our family never hesitated with the decision to donate James' organs. Even if someone signs a donor card, it is ultimately up to the family whether or not their loved ones organs are donated. James' spirit was gone out of his body and his organs were now no use to him. I could not see burying organs that could help others to have a long healthy life, and keep their families from going through the pain of seeing a loved one die.

Love like you've never been hurt
Sing as if no one was listening
Dance like no one was watching
And live each day as if it were your last

Deadly tornado takes life, gives life

The television screen over 24-year-old Dana Pritchett's hospital bed at Integris Baptist Medical Center in Oklahoma City beeped incessantly as frantic weathermen urged residents in the area to take cover immediately. The radar images showed angry red blotches where they said tornadoes had touched down. "I was hoping they wouldn't hit the hospital," Dana remembered.

Dana had been admitted to the hospital for surgery to repair an umbilical cord hernia. More than a year previously she had delivered a son, Dylan, even though she learned in 1992 that her liver was being destroyed by her own immune system and that she would eventually need a liver transplant. Doctors were worried that neither she, nor the baby, would survive, because of her liver disease. Dana had delivered her son seven weeks early, but both she and her baby were fine.

The hernia repair was supposed to be routine surgery, but Dana's life took a different turn shortly after the tornadoes hit the area. Blood work showed that her condition had worsened in just a few days. Her liver was failing fast.

Meanwhile, as the tornado warnings were being broadcast, 19-year-old Kelly Cox was frantically trying to reach her mother, Suzanne. The weather was moving toward the small community of Bridge Creek, northeast of Chickasha, where her 55-year-old mother shared a mobile home with her five dogs and two cats. The phone was busy.

The residents in Bridge Creek had seen lots of stormy weather before. But this storm was different. It had a different look about it. It even felt different. They had no way of knowing that the tornado bearing down on them would be the most violent ever recorded. It slammed into the tiny community like a great wind-borne hammer disintegrating homes, tossing cars and trucks like they were toys, and killing and injuring people. Only later, after talking to neighbors, did Kelly learn that her mother was among the critically injured.

Kelly Cox kept a vigil at her mother's bedside at University Hospital, as the doctors and nurses did what they could. Her mother had suffered serious brain damage and even emergency surgery didn't help. Tests eventually showed that blood had stopped flowing to her mother's brain, and the doctors told Kelly she was brain-dead. Her three uncles had flown to Oklahoma City to be with her. But, Kelly faced a decision that would change her life, and the lives of many others; one she would have to make on her own. Samantha Mitchell, an organ recovery coordinator for the Oklahoma Organ Sharing Network, asked Kelly if she would donate her mother's organs and tissues. Kelly had been an organ donor since she was old enough to make that decision, and she said her mother had told her she wanted to be an organ donor, too. Mitchell says there was no hesitation at all, Kelly said yes. Her uncles agreed. "I don't regret it at all," Kelly says. "My family feels the same way."

Back at Integris Baptist Medical Center, Dana Pritchett had been moved to the Intensive Care Unit. "The next day," says Dana, "one of the liver transplant coordinators came in and asked me for my mother's telephone number at work in Tulsa. When I asked him why, he said they had a potential liver donor for me."

Dana Pritchett was taken to surgery at 10:30 p.m. Five-and-a-half hours later, surgeons put the last suture in place. Dana Pritchett had a new, healthy liver from Suzanne Cox, Kelly’s mom.

When Kelly Cox saw Dana and her 16-month-old son on television shortly after the transplant, she figured her mom was Dana’s donor. Kelly decided she wanted to meet Dana and her son. Arrangements were made for Kelly to visit with Dana and her family in her hospital room. She says she got to know Dana, and that Dana talked about her little boy. "I've had nearly 20 years with my mom," says Kelly, "and it's good to see that this little boy will have much longer with his mom."

There were many others who benefited from Suzanne Cox's donation. Her heart saved the life of a patient in Louisiana, her kidneys were sent to patients who were waiting in Pittsburgh, and her corneas were recovered for patients in Oklahoma and New York, who were waiting to see clearly again.

 In 1995 my husband Joe received a long-awaited kidney transplant. After a month-long stay in the hospital, he was back to his "normal" life, which included playing, coaching, and refereeing ice hockey. In 1996, I found out I was pregnant with our 3rd child. What a blessing! (Because of complications after the transplant Joe was told he wouldn't be able to have any more children.) On July 3, 1997, Jazmine Ann was born. It was no ordinary birth. The ambulance didn't have time to arrive before Joe had to deliver her, right in our bedroom. What a miraculous experience for anyone, much less someone who received the gift of a kidney transplant only two years before. We have been truly blessed. Thank you for letting me share my story.

Cala, living pancreas and kidney donor
Wife of kidney and pancreas recipient

A month before we were married, my husband was told his kidneys were failing due to uncontrollable Type-1 Diabetes. He was placed on the waiting list for a kidney in November 1989. No call came and he just got more and more tired and sick. At one of his appointments I asked if an unrelated person could donate; the doctor had never mentioned it. The answer was yes and I asked to be tested. I was a match and we were told we could begin the testing to find out if I was able to do the donation. While waiting for the testing process to begin, I read about a doctor at the University of Minnesota who was doing living donor pancreas transplants as a treatment for Type-1 Diabetes. It made no sense to put in a kidney only to have it killed by the same disease that made the transplant necessary in the first place - so I called him. To make a very involved but exciting story short, I became the first non-related pancreas donor a year after the kidney transplant. I feel that more people would donate organs if they only understood the process better. I was honored to donate organs for my husband. If I accomplish nothing else in my life, I can always look back and be proud of myself for this. I was given the opportunity to save another human being. The fact that it was the man I love made it that much more special.


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