The Ultimate Gift of Life
My new passion has become encouraging others to sign up as registered organ donors. When I retired from the American Red Cross I looked for another opportunity to impact lives across the Texas Hill Country, Texas and throughout the country.
As some of you may know April is National Donate Life Month. With over 121,000 people on the donor waiting list – approximately the population of 10 Hill Country counties – the need for registered donors is very real. Currently, an average of 18 people die every day because an organ was not available.
A recent national survey found that 90% of the people questioned thought that organ donation was a good idea. However, in Kerr County and many of the surrounding counties, registration rates are at 30% or lower. So, why are the registration rates low? What is stopping people from the action of signing up?
I believe we need to share information. We need to address the myths and talk about the facts. My new opportunity provides me with the chance to “tell the story” of those who have gone through loss and turned it into a time of hope. Since announcing the formation of this new non-profit, I have had the honor of hearing from many of our neighbors who have been touched by organ donation. I am looking forward to sharing those stories in future columns.
And, after really talking to my family about organ donation, I have also found personal connections. I knew that my stepfather had a very bad heart. I remember my mother accompanying him to Houston, where I lived at the time, so that he could have heart surgery for an aortic aneurysm. They returned to Michigan where he lived another 4 years, prior to his heart totally giving out. What I learned recently is that he was an organ donor – and that though his heart was weak – his eyes were strong. Two other people benefitted from his choice to be a cornea donor and were given back the gift of sight.
My stepsister recently shared that her husband who passed away suddenly at the age of 45 was also an organ donor. He was an athlete and in excellent physical condition. One night she awoke to find him in cardiac arrest on the bathroom floor. She told me that she felt some comfort in the fact that he was able to live on and help others with tissue, bone and cornea donation after he was gone.
That’s the amazing thing about all the stories that I have heard. The families of those lost find some measure of peace from knowing that their loved one has helped another family with sight, a heartbeat, kidney function, and other medical, non-fixable conditions. I believe that increasing the numbers of people registered will provide hope for the families of those on the waiting list.
You are never too old, nor too young to donate. The waiting list is filled with children, young and old adults. Babies need help, as do the elderly. The great news is that you could be the one that “matches” their need. One person can help up to 8 people with organ donations and over 50 others with eye and tissue donation.
There is a national database of registered donors, and it takes 2-3 minutes to register! The goal of The Ultimate Gift of Life is to share information which will increase the number of registered donors. If you have a “heart” on your driver’s license, I encourage you to take a few minutes to insure that you are also on the national registry at www.organdonor.gov. If you have multiple residences – register for both states where you live.
I look forward to sharing more stories about your neighbors who have experienced, first hand, the amazing journey and ways they have been touched about organ donation. If you would like to contact me, our phone number is 830-792-9197 and email address firstname.lastname@example.org. Please check out www.theultimategiftoflife.com for additional information. God Bless Ya’ll!
A Gift So Precious
by Katy Huth Jones
In October 1997, a tragedy occurred in San Antonio. A van carrying students to a football game overturned. Fifteen-year-old Jessica suffered severe head trauma and was declared brain dead.
That night Jessica’s mother agonized over the decision to discontinue life support and let her daughter go. She envisioned a thousand mothers sitting beside their children’s hospital beds, agonizing as she was, but with one important difference: whereas she had no hope that Jessica would recover, these mothers could save their children, if donated organs could be found.
That vision enabled Jessica’s parents to give the ultimate gift–the donation of their daughter’s organs.
After hearing about the accident on the radio, the next day I received a call that a cornea was waiting for me. I couldn’t help but wonder if the cornea came from one of the students in that accident, so much so that I became ill upon arriving at the eye surgical center in San Antonio; I felt unreasonable guilt that a young person had to die in order for sight to be restored in my diseased eye.
Because I had to be awake for the procedure, I was able to see when the old cornea was cut away, revealing a perfect circle of light. I even saw the new cornea held by forceps as the surgeon placed it on my eye, and I could discern the curved needle as it sewed this precious gift into place. The next morning I could see the large “E” on the vision chart, something I hadn’t been able to do in a long time!
After my recovery I visited the San Antonio Eye Bank and learned about the procedure for organ donation, from the original contact by a nurse trained to approach suffering families to the methods of organ procuration and storage. I looked under the microscope to see how corneal cells were counted to make sure they were viable for transplant. All of this was interesting, but it didn’t help my lingering guilt.
Then a woman at the eye bank told me about an upcoming “reunion” for donor families. They were going to plant a tree in memory of their loved ones. A few would speak to the crowd. She asked if I would be willing to tell my story.
When I arrived at the reunion, I was seated next to Jessica’s mother, who was scheduled to speak just before me. I told her about receiving the call for the cornea right after the accident. She hugged me and said it made her happy to think that because of Jessica, a mother like me could see her own child clearly.
Then she got up to tell her story. Though tears ran down her face, her voice was clear and strong. She said she believed her decision, although more painful than she could ever have imagined, was the right one, one that would have pleased the unselfish Jessica.
I was so choked up listening to this brave woman, I wasn’t sure I could speak. I’d planned to read from notes, but as I looked into the faces of these bereaved people, I spoke from the heart. I explained that I had an eye disease for which there was no cure. I talked about my first transplant at age four, and how the disease had eaten through that cornea, too. I even told them about how I’d put off this second transplant for so long because I felt guilty, and how I still had those feelings.
By the end, when I thanked them all for the wonderful gift they’d given, I told them that every day, when I looked through my clear, beautiful cornea, I remembered a mother’s sacrifice and held her and her child in my heart. Then I started crying, too.
Afterward, total strangers came up and hugged me, telling me I should never feel guilty. By donating their loved one’s organs, it helped their grief, knowing someone’s sight was improved, or a liver or kidney had saved another life. By that they felt their lost one’s death was not in vain. It gave them comfort.
And finally, I began to find comfort, too.
Although I later found out I didn’t have Jessica’s cornea, but that of a seventeen-year-old boy, I will hold both these young people in my heart for as long as I live. I will never forget their courageous parents for giving me and others a gift so precious that there are no words sufficient to say thank you.
Jacob Krebs – Organ Donation
by Will, Mary and Julie Krebs
Registering as an organ donor was a “no brainer” for Jacob. His life was dedicated to “helping other people at all times”. He was an Eagle Scout and earned six Palms. At age 16, the day Jacob got his driver’s license he asked if he could register to be an organ donor. I emphatically agreed to it, not really thinking the impact it would have on our family if it actually happened.
April 1, 2013, two years later, Jacob was declared brain dead following a shallow water drowning accident. Jacob had been training for a Navy S.E.A.L. contract when he lost consciousness while holding his breath for a few minutes. He never woke up.
Jacob was air-lifted to San Antonio and lay unconscious for six days following the accident. Upon arrival at the hospital, he was immediately put on a respirator and other machines to keep him alive and attempt to heal him. We prayed continually day and night, every day, God would heal Jacob’s lungs and let him live. On Easter Sunday, God answered our prayers, just not the way we wanted. God performed many miracles that day. He healed Jacob’s lungs and other organs so they could be successfully harvested and transplanted into at least five different people and as many as eighty others with his skin and tissue donations.
As parents, not in our lifetime, did it ever occur to us we would be making the decision to carry out Jacob’s wishes. Parents are supposed to outlive their children. But knowing Jacob’s request and who he was, it was the right thing to do. There was never a hesitation. God was in the hospital room with us. Our only request of the Texas Organ Sharing Alliance (TOSA) and Allograft Resources was to have his organs and tissues donated to military veterans. We knew that’s what Jacob would have wanted.
On April 2, 2013 Jacob and his transplant recipients celebrated a new re-birth. Jacob lives on in the lives of others. He gave the ultimate gift of life. We are blessed to have met David, his double-lung recipient, and the meeting was bitter sweet. We were so blessed the family welcomed us into their home. David let me hug him as soon as I saw him. I could feel his chest rise and fall, followed by my tears of sorrow and tears of joy. Jacob continues to breathe through David. We are very grateful to be witnesses of God’s faith and unending love.
It has been difficult since Jacob died, but God has been faithful to us. We are at peace knowing Jacob is standing tall as a soldier of God and is in “God’s Army” now. We continue to persevere and honor Jacob by becoming organ donors ourselves and spreading the word about organ and tissue donation.