A Brief Thought on Organ Donation
Written by my sister-in-law’s husband after his father passed away this week.
A daughter’s grief that warmed my heart
It was 8:30 last night when I got home. The downstairs lights were off and bedtime activity was commencing upstairs. I was greeted with hugs from my 7-year old son, who, I was told, was crying most of the afternoon. He told me he was sorry and that he loved me. That hug was followed by his twin sister’s. I asked how my oldest daughter was holding up, and my wife said “not so good”. She toughed it out and went to her tap practice last night. It was the last session for the summer and she didn’t want to miss it. When she entered the door at 9:00, she immediately came to me weeping and I could really tell how bad she felt. She was grieving over the loss of her grandfather, my dad, who had passed away a few hours earlier at the hospital. And as she cried, I couldn’t help but feel good.
I remember my sophomore year of high school. It was June, 1985, a full 15 years before the birth of my first child, and I was visiting my dad, bedside, at Jameson Memorial Hospital, in New Castle, PA. Along his side was my sister, Tammy, dressed in a white graduation gown with a blue sash indicating that she was valedictorian, posing for a picture with him. He would not be making the ceremony that night because he had just suffered his third heart attack. He was 45. He would miss several more events over the next 4 years. By 1989, my dad looked more like 79 than 49. He could barely walk and he needed help to tie his shoes. His congenital heart failure had finally reached its end. He would be dead in less than 6 months if he didn’t receive a new heart.
That summer, his miracle came. He was flown by helicopter to Hershey Medical Center, the same hospital he passed away yesterday, and had a successful heart transplant. His 50th birthday was literally that, a rebirth. For the next 6 years, he wouldn’t miss anything, and he had a zest for life unlike any person I have ever known. After 6 years, my father became ill again. The same heart that had given him new life was now rejecting his body. And by the time doctor’s had discovered this, it was too late to fix the problem. My dad was put on the donor list once more. This time around, he would not be flown to the hospital when a match arrived. He had to check in the hospital in July of 1996, a full two months before a donor heart was found. At the time, he looked far from sick. He still had loads of energy, walking around the hallways of Hershey, putting a golf ball whenever he could. In August, on a warm night around 2 am, (news always seems to happen in the middle of the night), we received word that a match was found. When we got there and they prepped him and rolled him into surgery, the heart was found to be unviable, in essence, a false alarm. In the month that followed, my father’s health deteriorated, as was expected. He was bedridden and had zero energy. The doctors gave him maybe a week to live. On his birthday, September 6, he received a third birth (2nd rebirth). This one was viable and the transplant was more than successful.
Two days short of his 72nd birthday, 16 years after receiving his second miracle, his third heart gave out, in the same hospital that gave him new life twice over. I’m not a statistics guy (actually I am), but most heart transplant recipients live an average of 10 years with their new heart. My father made it almost 16; enough years to see his 10 grandchildren born and grow up a little bit. He’s made it to so many dance recitals, soccer games, and softball games, there is almost too many to count. So while my daughter cried over his death, I was happy; happy that she actually got to know the man that could have died easily 22 years ago and again 16 years ago, many years before she was even born.
If you are not an organ donor, please consider it. You never know if you’ll be giving a daughter the chance to know her grandfather.