What April 16th Means To Me

green ribbonDid you know that April is National Donate Life month? Each April, we celebrate the generosity of those who have saved lives by becoming organ, eye, tissue, marrow, and blood donors.

What does this mean to you?

Organ donation is something that people tend to feel uncomfortable about, as it involves end-of-life decisions. I do not understand this hesitancy to explore things that involve death; we celebrate birthdays, the coming-into life. We must also consider the going-out-of (which we all hope shall be merciful).

Firstly, I find it amazing that we can perform the act of transplantation – organs, tissues, everything. Initial attempts at transplants were devastating. The transplant teams were fighting hard for their desperately sick patients but were failing time after time. It broke their hearts – they had grown to know their patients and their families. The brave pioneers of transplant surgery failed so miserably that they shut down the program for years. One of their biggest hurdles was in preventing rejection of the transplanted organs, chiefly due to a lack of reliable anti-rejection methods and medications. The concept was revived as technology evolved, and modern transplantation is nothing short of amazing.

Furthermore, transplantation demonstrates the transparency of color, gender and class, which I whole-heartedly support in my overall view of society. Additionally, I think it’s beautiful that someone can simultaneously leave this life and give life to another.

That said, on to the date of April 16th. On that day in 1995, I was twelve-years old and withering away in a hospital bed. People chose not to give up on me – family, doctors and nurses, and complete strangers.

April 16th, 1995, is the date of my first liver transplant. I went to sleep, the doctors went to work, my parents tried to nap in an uncomfortable waiting area throughout a very long night.

As this was happening in our lives, another family was dealing with sudden tragedy; the death of a twenty-one-year-old: son, perhaps a brother, a friend or a nephew. I’ll never know.

While volunteering for the cause of organ donation, I have had the pleasure to meet a number of very brave donor families. Many have shared that donation was and is a small comfort to their grieving hearts: knowing that another human being was able to live and carry a part of their loved one. I speak for the community of transplant patients in stating that we all are very grateful and regard our donor as a hero.

After my liver transplant, I enjoyed sixteen healthy, happy years. Unfortunately, my disease is chronic, and I would go on to require a second transplant in 2011. Both donor families chose to remain anonymous, and that’s OK. Regardless, I think of my donors every day. And each year, on April 16th, I pause and reflect upon the day that changed our lives.

Organ donation saves lives. The spectrum of donation is very amazing and does incredible things for people: corneas can restore sight for someone that is blind, bone can mean the difference for someone’s ability to walk, a heart can beat for someone else. I urge you to consider this important decision. If you haven’t already, you can register here.

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