Why you should consider becoming an organ donor

November 4th, 2014

A Personal Question

Before you read more, I would like you to take out your driver’s license. Look at it. Are you an organ and tissue donor? If you are, there will be some kind of indication on your license. In my home state, the sign for an organ donor is a small red heart on the front of the license; and indeed there is a heart just above and to the right of my signature. Other states have different indications. In Tennessee, donors check a box next to the statement, “I hereby certify that I am 18 or older, of sound mind, and upon my death, wish to make an anatomical gift noted below.” Tennessee residents can then choose to mark one of three options: (1) any organ/tissue, (2) entire body, or (3) specific organ(s)/tissue; and fill in their preferences.

I ask such a personal question because November 9 is Organ and Tissue Donor Sunday in The United Methodist Church. The following weekend, November 14–16, many different faiths will participate in National Donor Sabbath, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

A Difficult Answer

Tribhawan and Jasmin Persaud were not very knowledgeable about organ donation. All that changed in an instant when their 21-year-old son, Anand, was in a car accident in 2005. His head injuries were so severe that hospital personnel could do nothing to save his life. The attending nurse talked to the Persauds and asked them to consider donation. The grieving parents agreed, and soon their son’s kidneys, pancreas, liver, and heart were transplanted. Six people are alive today because of their difficult answer.

“Anand was this terrific guy, this loving guy,” Tribhawan says of his son. “What a waste it would have been if we hadn’t donated his organs. We are very happy that we made the best decision. . . . This is a blessing that we were able to make a difference in their lives. Some of them are having children, some are having grandchildren.”

Tribhawan now volunteers for organizations that encourage organ and tissue donation and encourages other people to become donors. “No one knows when they may die, but when you do go, you can leave a legacy,” he says. “Should anything happen to you, you will be a blessing to somebody’s family.”

Unlike young Anand Persaud, Ernest Goh made the decision to be an organ donor himself. His wife, Bernice, remembers that “he put the pink dot on his driver’s license himself. He said that when we pass away, we must put all of our assets to good use.”

Ernest died unexpectedly at 61. His family knew what to do; they respected his commitment. “I am very proud of him for making the decision,” Bernice says. “With his donation, five lives have been saved. He did a great thing.”

A life-giving answer

Cheyenne Noel Arnold was only four months old when she was diagnosed with severe heart disease. When she was 18 months old, it was clear that to live much longer, she needed a new heart. She was placed on the transplant waiting list and soon received that new heart.

Harrison Black, Cheyenne’s grandfather, was also diagnosed with heart disease around the same time. He was also told that he needed a heart transplant. Inspired by his young granddaughter, he was resolved that “if Cheyenne made it through, surely I can, too.” Within weeks after his heart transplant, he was holding his young granddaughter in his lap. Six years later, the two enjoy their time together, including camping and riding on Black’s motorcycle. Their family members say, “Two lives in our family were saved because of the selfless gift of organ donation.”

Kelvin Y. knew that he was at risk for an early death. Like many people of Asian heritage living in the United States, he was diagnosed with a form of hepatitis, a disease that attacks the liver. His doctors monitored him regularly, and for nearly 20 years Kelvin was stable. But that changed in an instant. “I was at work, and began throwing up blood,” Kelvin said.

He was so sick that he was placed on the transplant waiting list immediately. His doctors told him he had about six months to live. Four months later, he received the call he’d been waiting for and, soon after, a new liver. “I was so excited, because it gave me hope. Hope to see my sons grow up and spend more time with my wife and family.”

His now-grown sons are registered organ donors, and the family encourages others to make the same life-giving commitment. “Without the transplant, I would have died 15 years ago,” Kelvin says. “Now I treasure every day. I love my wife, my kids, my family even more. Every day is a new day for me. Every day is a thankful day for me. And I really appreciate the new life that I have been given.”

Answering the question

Sue Johnson, a member of Minnehaha United Methodist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, is a registered organ and tissue donor. Sue works as a nurse and has seen many people benefit from organ donations. Although the recipient of the transplant and his or her family benefit, Sue says that often the donor’s family benefits as well, particularly when their loved one died a sudden and/or tragic death.

Karen McIntyre, a member of West End United Methodist Church in Nashville, Tennessee, is also a committed donor. When I asked Karen, “What led you to your decision?” she replied with a question of her own: “Why not let my body be useful to someone even in death?”

The Reverend Christine Bowden, pastor of Long Neck United Methodist Church near Millsboro, Delaware, is a registered donor as well. She said she made it official in part because it was so easy to do when she renewed her driver’s license. She added, “While I’m perfectly happy to share, I’m not happy that the medical industry profits from these very personal gifts.”

Like Sue, Karen, and Christine, I’m a registered organ and tissue donor. I had no hesitation to answer yes when asked if I wanted to be a donor. The way I figured it, once I’m dead, I’m no longer going to need my organs and tissue anyway. Plus I see registering to be a donor as a way for me to respond to Jesus’ call to be compassionate. By this simple act, I may be an agent of healing. My decision may save the life of another person, or potentially more than one person.

Donations do make a difference. At this time, medical professionals can transplant the pancreas, lungs, liver, kidneys, heart, and intestines, as well as perform kidney/pancreas, heart/lung, and other combined organ transplants. Organdonor.gov reports that tissue such as bone, cartilage, corneas, heart valves, ligaments, the middle ear, skin, tendons, and veins can be “used to restore sight, cover burns, repair hearts, replace veins, and mend damaged connective tissue and cartilage.” One organ donor can make a difference in the lives of many people.

While most donors have died before the donation of their organs and tissue is completed, it’s possible to become a donor while still alive. “A living donor can donate a kidney, part of the pancreas, part of a lung, part of the liver, or part of the intestine,” according to organdonor.gov.

Your answer could matter

More than 123,000 people in the United States are waiting for an organ transplant. Another name is added to the waiting list every ten minutes. While last year there were 14,257 organ donations, approximately 21 people die each day because an organ donation was not made in time. Research has revealed that 98 percent of all adults have heard of organ donation, 86 percent have heard of tissue donation, and 90 percent say they support donation; yet only 30 percent know the steps to become a donor.

While many of us are uncomfortable thinking about our own death, the reality is that each of us will die someday. Your answer today could help transform that future sad day for your loved ones into a hopeful day for someone else.

Be sure to check out FaithLink, a weekly downloadable discussion guide for classes and small groups. FaithLink motivates Christians to consider their personal views on important contemporary issues, and it also encourages them to act on their beliefs.

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