I see him lifeless and feel his cold, ashen face. I hear the story of the paramedics and the effort to revive him that did not succeed. Somehow I am still standing as the reality of my husband’s death becomes real and yet, there is one more question they ask, one decision that is mine.
The organ procurement coordinator asks me about donation and I hear an audible sigh escape my lips. I’ve been a part of these conversations with families as a nurse, but now I am a widow and I am alone making this choice.
The nurse in me knows the need for the many patients awaiting organs who are praying for a second chance at life. The wife in me knows that I will not wake up from this nightmare and that my husband is truly gone.
I hear myself say, “Yes, use whatever you can.” I feel numb and nauseous as I see my signature signing the necessary papers.
The flurry of notifying relatives and friends, funeral planning and the countless tasks of grief keep me busy in the days that follow. I forget about that question, those legal papers, at least until I get the letters in the mail.
One comes from the Bone and Tissue Bank at the Medical College of Wisconsin offering their sympathy. The letter states:
“We recovered several segments of bone and soft tissue which will be made available to surgeons in the Midwest, for use in transplantation. The bone can be used as grafting material for patients that suffer trauma or need spinal fusions. It will also be used to replace bone affected with a tumor thereby sparing that patient an amputation. The soft tissue, which is tendon material, will be used for reconstructive purposes. The heart valves will be returned to Wisconsin and used for patients that have valvular disease and the corneas will also be used for transplant. In other words, you expressed the love you had for your husband Chris by allowing this ‘Gift of Life’ to improve the quality of life for many people.”
The second letter I receive from the Wisconsin Lions Eye Bank at the Medical College of Wisconsin states:
“Both corneas were used on February 14 and both recipients are doing very well – they are extremely grateful for the gift of sight which was only possible for them because of your generosity in giving.”
April is National Donate Life Month and as I reflect on my decision to give my husband’s organs, I am so grateful that I did. Chris would have told me to and our faith supports that decision as well, (According to the BloodCenter of Wisconsin’s Organ and Tissue Donation – Myths and Facts Sheet, all major religions – Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism – fully support donation.)
I think of the joy and gratitude that must have been felt by the recipients and that makes me feel proud. Proud that I was able to grasp reality enough to know that I needed something positive and hopeful to come out of the hell I was living.
Donating organs is a selfless way of honoring those we love and honoring ourselves if we so choose. According to an article written by the BloodCenter of Wisconsin, “Studies show that donation most often provides immediate and long-term consolation. Donation can be especially comforting when the death is unexpected and the donor is young. Family members of the donor often feel encouraged that something good has come out of something tragic.”
I can attest to that being a true statement and I hope that you will make a personal choice to become an organ donor. I also urge you to talk to your loved ones and family members so that they know your wishes.
In the state of Wisconsin, you need a donor sticker on the front of your driver’s license and your signature on the back if you choose to give. You can also register your decision to be an organ, tissue and eye donor at the Department of Transportation/Division of Motor Vehicles when you renew your license or ID, or on the Wisconsin Donor Registry at YesIWillWisconsin.
Whatever state you are in, you can learn more or sign up to become a donor on The United States Department of Health and Human Services website Organdonor.gov at http://organdonor.gov/index.html
Have you made the decision to donate your organs upon your death?
Are your intentions known by your loved ones and friends?
Have you signed your driver’s license and have a donor sticker present?
Have you registered your intentions on the National Registry or your State Registry?
What was your experience after donating a loved one’s organs?