As we endure the coronavirus lockdown, it’s important to remember those who are most vulnerable to becoming infected: the elderly, cancer patients, those with HIV and those who have undergone an organ transplant.
Although April is National Donate Life Month, every month is the time to become an organ donor.
Ever found yourself hoping someone will die so someone you love can live?
I found myself in that unenviable position 16 years ago.
My brother Danny was dying. For years he had suffered from a rare liver disease—primary sclerosing cholangitis. Finally, his liver was giving out. Death was near.
For months, he had teetered atop the Mayo Clinic transplant waiting list for a liver. Someone had to die for him to survive.
His prospects grew dimmer as he waited.
Each day, 20 Americans die waiting to have an organ transplant. And, according to the Health Resources and Science Administration, there are more than 116,000 Americans on the national transplant list.
However, not enough people have signed up to be organ donors.
For my brother, his situation was more dire than most. Not only did physicians need to find a good genetic match, but they also needed someone who had never contracted mononucleosis.
Danny, had never become ill with mono. Our mother, a registered nurse, drilled in us the importance of good hygiene. We never shared cups, lollipops or dishes with friends. And mono, a common infection, never came our way.
But, this careful attention to cleanliness became a detriment. If Danny received an organ from someone who had been infected anytime in his or her life, he could suffer life-threatening complications.
As a result, the potential donor pool was small, and all we could do was wait and pray.
I was at an investigative reporting conference in Atlanta when I received the early-morning call. It was my mother, and she was crying.
Mom didn’t weep easily, but that day her tears were happy ones. A donor liver had been located.
A middle-aged woman in Rochester, Minn., had died of a brain aneurysm. At some point earlier, she’d signed a document to become an organ donor.
That small act saved my brother’s life.
On Father’s Day 2004, he began his path to recovery. With the gift of a new liver, his yellowing skin returned to a healthy peach color. His weakened body regained energy.
Unfortunately, this isn’t an “and they lived happily ever after” story. I wish it were.
Cancer began to grow in his transplanted liver, and by December 2005, my brother was dead.
Still, some woman, whose name we will never know, gave him a year and a half of live that he never would have enjoyed without her donation.
My brother was not a man prone to much introspection. He was a farmer. Most things were black and white: crop yields, commodity prices, hog weights.
However, when it came to the unknown woman who gave a part of herself to him, he became quiet and contemplative.
“I wonder what she was like. Did she have kids?” he asked shortly before his death.
I wondered if her family missed her as much as I would miss Danny.
We do know this much about the woman: she cared enough to give.
As April and National Donate Life Month come to a close, please become an organ donor.
Editor’s note: Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse journalist and a freelance reporter. He can be contacted at email@example.com.