Donate life, for David

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Just when you think you’re done crying...

I suppose it shouldn’t have surprised me while working on today’s column topic to learn that we’ve just missed Organ Donation Week. David would have loved the timing.

Who’s David? Right now, in a way, he’s many people. We think of him as our nephew, although technically a cousin, because we’re closer to his branch of the family than any other. But I digress.

David’s final story hit like a tornado. A sudden, extreme asthma attack led to unconsciousness, coma, and death of this highly intelligent, funny 23-year-old (my cousin’s only child) over four agonizing days. That’s how our loved ones in Colorado experienced first-hand what organ donation is like.

It was — and this may surprise you — beautiful.

David had no reason to believe he’d die young, but his mom is a nurse and former EMT, so they’d had end-of-life discussions. There was no question that David would have wanted to help others live if he couldn’t. Still, can you imagine making that call, watching your son still breathing on life support, even knowing intellectually that his brain and essence were gone?

We hadn’t realized this meant some delay. The decision had already been made to end life support, as medically there was no possibility of his “waking up.” But certain organs removed remain useful only so long, so time was required for organ donation officials to consult the registry, identify potential matches among those with greatest medical need, then get them ready and in some cases, transported.

While they waited, David’s mom and grandparents kept a 24-hour bedside vigil, playing his favorite music, holding his hand, loving, and yes, grieving. Medical personnel were wonderful — so sensitive, thoughtful, and helpful. David is more than half Native American and he had been exploring those spiritual aspects; the hospital connected his mom with an Indian spiritual guide who sang to David and prayed for his spirit, to guide it home.

When it was finally time to let go of him, medical staff asked if there was special music. There was; Garth Brooks’ “The Dance” has been meaningful to David and his mom since he was a baby. So the hospital personnel played it for all to hear, including those involved with organ retrieval. There were words about David which they asked his mom to write, describing him. It was piped into the operating room. Those doctors heard — had to think about — who was giving these gifts as they prepared to convey them to others.

Everyone, we were told, was very respectful, kind, and compassionate. David was treated gently at every step. It couldn’t have been more meaningful or more courteous, the family told us. We felt comforted by that.

Organ donation has so much potential to save lives, including a different David. Local school board member Dave Eubanks received a life-saving heart about 10 years ago. Dave’s experience convinced me that some part of donors really does live on, and I don’t mean just functionally.

Dave Eubanks never was drawn to gardening, which he now loves, until after he received that heart. Can’t help but wonder.

Too many waste such gifts, either from inaction or misconception. Contrary to common belief, for example, religious traditions and personal preferences can often be accommodated.

Potential transplants include the kidney, heart, lung, liver, pancreas, and intestine. Corneas from the eye, the middle ear, skin, heart valves, bone, veins, cartilage, tendons, and ligaments can be used to restore sight, cover burns, repair hearts, replace veins, and mend damaged tissue and cartilage. Older donors are needed too; one in three organ donors is over 50.

One donor can save up to eight lives. Many on the national registry — 22 Americans a day — die waiting, as only a minority of those who could, actually donate. While 95 percent of Americans report being in favor of organ donation, only 54 percent are registered.

Help bridge the gap by taking less than two minutes to register at: Donatelife.net/register

Do it for David.

•••

Sholeh Patrick is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network. Contact her at Sholeh@cdapress.com.

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