Currently, nearly 124,000 people in the United States are waiting for a life-saving transplant (Unyts). Countless more are waiting for tissue and eye donations that would greatly improve their quality of life.
Tomorrow, April 21, Unyts will be celebrating Blue & Green Day to raise awareness of organ and tissue donation. In honor of Blue & Green Day and National Donate Life Month, I want to share the tremendous impact that organ donation has had on my family. It is my hope that our story will inspire you, perhaps enough to register as an organ, eye and tissue donor yourself.
Growing up, I always knew my dad was different. He spent hours each day doing medication, something that my friends’ fathers didn’t do. He coughed a lot, and easily became short of breath. Occasionally, he would spend a few days in the hospital. Despite Dad’s limitations, or maybe in spite of them, he was extremely active. He fished, rode his bike, completed projects around the house… Dad hid his illness from others, never wanting to feel their judgment or to be defined by such a small part of who he was. He was loud, boisterous, and full of vitality. It was easy to forget that he was sick. Until it wasn’t.
As time went on, Dad’s condition deteriorated. He began spending more time in the hospital, and his bike rides became fewer and farther between, dwindling before stopping altogether. Eventually, tasks as simple as walking to get the mail became monumental undertakings. Organ transplant, something that had previously been a taboo subject, became a very real conversation in our home.
Dad came down with the flu in November 2012. It was a strain not covered by that year’s vaccine, something he always received as a precaution. He spent a couple of weeks in the hospital before being discharged, but showed little improvement once home. On Christmas Eve, a blockage broke free in Dad’s lungs. He was without oxygen for several minutes, and was rushed back to the hospital where his condition continued to worsen.
On December 28, Dad was Mercy Flighted to Pittsburgh. New lungs were his only hope. He was placed on the transplant list and given a five percent chance of surviving the month. Our family waited, praying desperately for a miracle. January 10, 2013, our prayers were answered.
Dad’s surgery was long and extensive. A team of surgeons carefully removed and replaced one lung before repeating the same steps on the other side. My mom, grandmother, aunt and I took up camp in the surgical waiting room. Our stress and worry increased by the hour. I cannot explain the relief we felt when it was all over.
Dad emerged from surgery a new man. He marveled at how easy it was to breathe, something he had struggled to do for several years prior. His recovery was long, but he faced life with renewed hope, my mom by his side every step of the way.
Today, four years after the surgery that saved his life, Dad is back to most of his favorite pastimes. He bought a new bike and rides 13+ miles regularly. He and Mom travel frequently, Colorado topping their list of favorite places. We have made countless new memories as a family, and Dad has proudly accepted a new role… grandpa.
Life after transplant is not always easy. There are still medications (a lot of them), and Dad’s immune system is completely suppressed. He is unable to work and must avoid large crowds, especially during cold and flu season. It is messy and stressful and… beautiful. Dad is alive, each day a treasure.
I think about Dad’s donor and his family often. Without their gift, Dad would not be here with us today. It takes tremendous strength and selfless courage to give to others in the wake of tragedy, especially after the death of a loved one. Although we will probably never meet, I love them fiercely.
If you have made it this far, thank you for reading our story. I hope you will join me in wearing blue and green tomorrow to raise awareness for organ donation. I also ask that you register as an organ, eye and tissue donor. Take the pledge here; you never know whose life you might save.