The Gift of Life: Organ Donation – Chet Szuber

HEALING THE GRIEVING HEART
The Gift of Life: Organ Donation
Host: Dr. Gloria Horsley
With guest: Chet Szuber
April 20, 2006

G: Hello. I?m Dr. Gloria Call Horsley with my co-host Dr. Heidi Horsley. Welcome to Healing the Grieving Heart. This is a show about dealing with the loss of a child and on today?s show, we?re going to focus on several very important topics. One is your physical health and how you cope with pre-existing health problems while you?re going through the physical and emotional stress of dealing with the death of a child and the second is organ donation. I?m very happy to say that I am a signed-up organ donor and our guest today is going to be talking about organ donation and giving you a little heads up on that as well as talking about his own life and his own story. Before we go with our guest today, I wanted to deal with a couple of emails that we?ve received. We received one email about the fact that our email person said they thought that it would be nice if we would do a show on parents who are divorced or separated or with other partners and I wanted them to know that we are looking into doing that type of show and we love getting your emails and we like the idea if you can give us some topics that you?d like to hear on the show because I know other listeners are interested in the same things. So Heidi you?ve got an email you?re going to read us today.
H: Sure, I?d love to. This message is from Linda. And by the way for our audience, if you could send us the city that you?re emailing from that would be great so that we can read it on the air. Linda?s email says:
I would like to ask you for some advice. August 14, 2005, my son died by suicide. I have had a lot of support. I am so exhausted. My family expects me to be at every family party. If I don?t go, they get mad at me. In March, my sister had a birthday party for her boyfriend. It was 60 miles away. I did not feel like going. Not in the mood. Besides, my younger boy didn?t feel like going either. When my parents were down there, they were telling my uncle, (1) she needs to snap out of it; (2) she needs to get over it, and (3) she needs to get on with her life, which is what I am desperately trying to do.
G: Wow, Linda, that?s a tall order people are asking of you. The reality is that grieving the loss of a child is a horrendous situation and it?s a process that we have to go through and it?s a painful process. I know other people in the family love us and they want us to be who we are and we were and who they know, but that?s not the reality. The reality is we will be changed and we are changed.
H: That?s just new. You haven?t even hit the one-year mark. You?re in your first year of grief.
G: Absolutely. I remember six months after my son died, one of my nieces got married and the family was very upset that we wouldn?t fly out to the wedding, and there?s no way we could go to the wedding, and they?ve never understood it. It?s been years and I think they?re still unhappy about it. If it?s brought up, they can?t believe that we weren?t there. So the reality is, Linda, you?ve got to take care of yourself and you?re number one right now and you?ll just have to, if people are angry or upset, so be it. But I?m hoping you?re getting some support through Compassionate Friends or being with other people so they can support you through this and through remarks people make that may make you feel like you should be doing more or you should be moving along. You are where you are and take care of yourself.
H: As far as your son goes, when you have a sibling, they?re part of your past, they?re part of your present, and you expect them to go through life with you. You travel with them through life and you expect that you?ll probably die of old age together. And so losing a sibling and being in the first year of grief is very powerful. When it?s somebody you?ve had in your life forever ever since you were born, you?re not going to just be able to get over it and move on. You?re going to have to learn, as my mother said, how to create a new normal and a new existence without such an important part of your life and an important person in your life and that?s going to take time and educating the family about how serious this is and how you miss this person and setting boundaries, and taking care of yourself is good advice.
G: And as parents, I know we want to talk our kids out of it, too, and we want our kids to get happy and we want them to talk about it or whatever and they don?t always want to talk, right, Heid?
H: Absolutely. And it?s hard as a child and a kid and a teenager, young adult, because your friends, too, they want you to be over it. They want you to come on let?s have fun. Get over it and move on. Let?s put it behind you and most of your peers and most people in your lives have never been through it. I was 20 when my 17-year-old brother died. None of my friends had ever had a sibling death. They had no idea of the impact and they wanted me just to act like normal and act like nothing had ever happened after several weeks and you can?t do that.
G: And you?re grieving and your parents don?t know it.
H: Right. As far as my situation and the siblings that I?ve worked with, we?re grieving, but we?re grieving alone because we feel like our parents have been through so much. We don?t want to cause them further pain, so even though we may not look like we?re grieving, we may look like our friends, we are grieving alone and we are grieving internally. What we look like outside isn?t how we?re feeling inside.
G: And it?s kind of scary to see your parents upset and your mother, too. So the main thing is I?d say after being through it, the more you can take care of yourself, the better for everybody. Thanks a lot for that email, Linda, and take care of yourself and stay in touch. Heid, would you like to introduce our guest today?
H: Sure, I?d love to. Our topic today is The Gift of Life: Organ Donation, and our guest is Chet Szuber. Eleven years ago, Chet got an extraordinary gift from his daughter, Patti: he got her heart. It?s been eleven years since the surgery, and thanks to Patti?s heart, Chet is still going strong. He runs a berry farm and a Christmas tree farm in Black River, Michigan, and keeps a special place set aside called Patti?s Park. Because of Patti?s generosity wanting to be an organ donor, today two blind women have vision, two others share her kidneys, and another has her liver. Chet heads the lineup of keynote speakers at the 2006 29th Annual Conference of The Compassionate Friends in Dearborn, Michigan, to be held July 14-16. Welcome to the show, Chet and Gloria.
C: Well, thank you for inviting me.
H: Chet, this is an unbelievable story. I had to read it a couple of times that what Patti gave you was her own heart. It?s very moving.
C: Well, I agree, and it was hard to come to terms with. Patti had indicated about the time that I was going through evaluation to become a candidate for heart transplant, and during that period, one evening at dinner, she said she signed her organ donor card. I thought, gee, that?s nice, and I never thought about it again. But after Patti had died, we had signed consent forms to give everything away to people with most needs because knowing how Patti was, that she wanted to help as many people as possible so we signed consent forms to give everything away, and after we were leaving, just about ready to leave the hospital, the coordinator came up and says, we know you?ve been waiting for a heart for four years, Mr. Szuber. You can have Patti?s heart. Well, you can?t believe the shock that I had.
G: Tell us about Patti and how she died and what happened.
C: Okay. Patti was 22 years old. She was the youngest of six and one of two daughters, to give you a little background. Patti was a nursing student and she had signed up to resume her classes on a Tuesday, didn?t have to be to school Monday, so she decided to go on a little trip and her and her friend were deciding should they go north or go south. North would be to my farm in Northern Michigan, south would be to the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee. So they decided to go to the Smoky Mountains. They left and while she was there, she was involved in an automobile accident and had suffered severe head injuries and after several days, Patti died.
G: Now, how did you hear about that?
C: Well, Patti had called us the evening before about 9:00 at night. She had called to tell us that she?d arrived safely at her destination, the Smoky Mountain National Park, and Patti really sounded quite excited. Number one, they had selected a very nice camping site in the Smokies and Patti had camped her entire life from the time she was baby. We did a lot of camping through Northern Michigan and into Northern Ontario so she was born into camping but she really loved the outdoors, appreciated the outdoors, and respected the outdoors, so when she said she had a beautiful site, I knew what she was talking about it.
G: You could really imagine her there.
C: I could imagine it. And the second thing she was excited about was for a few dollars, they could take a helicopter ride over the Smokies and she was describing the beauty of it she had seen from the air. And her excitement sort of welled over to me because it sounded like she was having such a great time there in the Smokies and my last words to Patti were probably the same I?d uttered a thousand times before to her older brothers and sisters and that is have a good time, but be careful. This is about 9:30 in the evening. About 4:30, 5:00 in the morning, the phone rings, and I?m thinking who would call us at this time?
G: Chet, let me say something. It never gets easier does it? I mean when you have to get back there.
C: Well, each time I tell the story, it?s like it just happened, and it sort of refreshes everything. But we received the telephone call in the wee hours of the morning and it woke us up and I said to my wife, ?It has to be a wrong number. Who would call us at this time of the morning?? But she got up and for some reason, she went to the phone in the kitchen, and she didn?t come back. I thought, that?s unusual. Wrong number, you normally say you?ve got the wrong number and you hang up and come back. So it piqued my curiosity so I got out of bed and about the time I got to the phone, she was handing me the phone saying it was the doctor from the trauma center at University of Tennessee Medical Center saying Patti had been in a serious automobile accident. That?s how we heard.
G: And I?m sure your wife was very concerned about you because at that point, you were not in good shape yourself, right?
C: Exactly. So when I spoke to the physician, he told me indeed that Patti was in a serious accident and he says don?t even bother coming down as death appears to be but moments away. And here we?re 700 miles away. I remember I sat down at the table in the kitchen, my wife was sitting on the sofa in the living room, we were both speechless, in shock, helpless. Here we?ve got a child dying and there?s nothing we can do and the doctor says don?t bother coming down, death is but moments away. And I don?t know if anyone can accurately ever describe the emotions the parent goes through at a time like this. I don?t think that there?s a pen or pencil made that can write the words that can describe the emotions that went through our minds.
G: Because it?s so physical also all over.
C: It?s beyond description. It has to be every parent?s nightmare phone call like that.
G: Absolutely. Well, Chet we have to go on break right now. When we come back, we?ll continue hearing about your daughter and about your journey and about your organ donation and about the heart that you received from your daughter, Patti, after her automobile accident eleven years ago. Please join us on our show today by calling our toll-free number 1-866-472-5792 with questions or comments regarding the losses in your life. You can also email us through our website, www.healingthegrievingheart.org. You can also download on Ipod and you can get transcripts from me for the hearing impaired through that website. Please stay tuned for more with Dr. Heidi Horsley and Dr. Gloria Horsley and Chet Szuber.
When we went to break, we had gotten to point where the doctor had called you and told you not to come because it looked like Patti would be gone very shortly and you and your wife were sitting in the living room right now as we left wondering what you were going to do. What did you do?
C: We sat there for quite some time, each of us in silence. Like I said, trying to explain the emotion is impossible. But finally, I had recalled a conversation that Patti had with us some four years earlier and that was the fact that she had stopped and filled out her organ donor card so I said to my wife, I said, ?Jean, you know Patti had indicated a long time ago that if something like this happened that she wanted to be an organ donor. Should we let them know at the hospital??
G: Now, Chet, I want to ask you a question. Are you struggling for breath when you say this at that time because you were not good with your heart, right?
C: I don?t know. I don?t even know how I felt outside of just empty.
G: Yeah, and just this thought came to you.
C: And this thought came to me that she had signed this card and my wife agreed that we should do that. When I talked to the physician the first time, I had the presence of mind to get his name and a direct phone line into the trauma unit so I called that number. I got the doctor and I told him, I says, ?you do everything humanly possible to save this child, but if things don?t work out, it was Patti?s wish to be an organ donor.? He accepted that, and again, he told me.
G: Wasn?t he blown away or how did he?
C: No, I don?t think so. He took it in good stride. He seemed to understand what I was talking about.
G: Good, sounds like a good man.
C: And then he told me once more, he said, ?Don?t bother coming down.?
G: But he doesn?t know parents, does he? Did you go, or no?
C: We didn?t go because we were somewhat concerned whether I could make the trip.
G: Absolutely. And did he know your background?
C: No, he didn?t know anything outside that I was Patti?s father. That?s all he knew. It was an unusual day on top of that because I had agreed earlier in the year to do an investigational drug study for a new medicine for congestive heart failure, which I had, and once a month I had to go to the University of Michigan Hospital and have blood tests, do a stress test, and do an echocardiogram and do a halter monitor and they would give me two bottles of pills. One would have an active ingredient, one would have a placebo. One month I would get 5 mg of active ingredient, the next month I would get 10. I never knew which month I was getting 5 mg, which month I was getting 10, and this was the last day of that investigational study. So I asked Patti?s older sister to drive me to University of Michigan, which is about 50 miles from where we live, and between procedures, I?d call home and to my surprise, Patti was still hanging on. Now we?re talking now mid-morning. They told us before 5:00 that death was but moments away and here it?s mid-morning and I also found out that two of Patti?s brothers wanted to go to Knoxville to be with Patti. They wanted to drive. Their mother wouldn?t let them. She said you kids will go too fast. You?ll get in an accident. I?ll have three kids in the hospital rather than one. So she said if you want to go, you?ll have to fly. So that?s what they did, they flew.
G: Well, Chet, let?s take a break for a minute from talking about this because we?ve got a caller on the line, Rose. Rose, welcome to the show. Where are you from?
R: Allentown, New Jersey.
G: Thanks for calling in on the show. Do you have a question for Chet or us?
R: Well, I lost my son two years ago this past March 31. He had only been home from the Army a year and a month and he shot himself. Prior to that, two weeks before that, we lost my mother-in-law, and a month later, after my son?s death, I lost a nephew, and then six months later, we lost another nephew. They were all young. So I feel like I?m kind of like all alone. I am seeking counseling. I am on anti-depressants because I was the one that had them.
G: That?s very tough. It takes a long time. You?re on target. You?re not going crazy. It takes time. Are you doing Compassionate Friends or anything like that?
R: Well, I tried the Suicide Survivors. I really didn?t like that. I listen to a lot of your programs.
G: Are they helping you?
R: Yeah. I find them very. I really don?t even want to go out of the house. I?ve been hibernating and everybody don?t understand but I go shopping, I come home, and I just cry. I have a 15-year-old daughter and I feel like I?m bringing her down. I feel like my husband don?t understand. But I?m sure he just don?t know what to do for me.
G: Well, it sounds to me like you?re trying to take care of yourself. I think you need to be a little more patient with yourself. Heidi, do you or Chet have any thoughts on that?
C: Well, I?ll tell you, losing a child. I had a psychologist about six months after Patti had died. It was a customer of mine. He bought a Christmas tree from me. I didn?t know who he was and he said he had just concluded a study about parents who lost children and he says his conclusion was that you never get over it. Well, I didn?t believe him then, but I do believe him, now. Heidi is saying it?s eleven years. It?s almost twelve years. It?ll be twelve years since I had the transplant. But you know, how we got over it, we don?t exclude Patti. I don?t go through shoulda, coulda, wouldas. Life doesn?t have reverse. We can?t back up and change anything that?s already happened. And I don?t hold grudges and I will not allow hate, anger, and revenge to control my life. And, sure, I?ve shed gallons and gallons and gallons of tears but Patti is still in my life. I?m sitting here in my living room at the farm and on the mantle is a picture of Patti and it?s the same thing at my home in Berkley because I have two places. We don?t exclude her from anything.
G: And, Chet, you also said, and it might be something for Rose to think about, that Christmas tree saved your life, planting them. I?m thinking maybe she could plant something. Spring is coming. Maybe some gardening or something. Spring is a very depressing time for people, by the way, Rose.
R: Yeah, I know, that?s what I was told. I do have a problem with the anger and I feel like I want revenge and stuff like that.
C: And it?s controlling you.
R: Yeah, it is, because he was only 19 years old when he was over in Germany and he had an accident. His first sergeant was killed and what the military didn?t tell me is he was taunted by a lot of the guys, and he was depressed.
G: You know, Rose, if you could email me I could put you in touch with a couple of people who have very like stories to you and one whose daughter was in the military and I?m sure they?d be happy to email with you if you want to email me.
R: Okay, great.
G: Email me through my website, www.healingthegrievingheart.org, and I will put you in touch with a couple of people.
H: Yeah, reaching out to others that have been where you?ve been is a great way to help heal.
R: Yeah. We flew all the way there and they never told us about his depression. All they said was he had an alcohol problem.
G: This story you?re telling me is only too familiar and also if you want to go on my site, have you listened to the shows about suicide?
R: Yes.
G: Oh, good, okay and a couple of those people I can put you in touch with who did the shows. They?re wonderful people and the story sounds very familiar and thank you so much for calling in and keep in touch. Keep listening and eat and drink and sleep. Drink water.
R: Drink a lot of water.
G: Absolutely, you?d be surprised. And go for a walk around the block every day.
H: We?re with you in spirit, Rose, seriously, so you?re not alone.
R: Okay, thank you very much.
G: Thanks for calling in. Well, Chet, those calls are pretty incredible, aren?t they? We know two years. We know it?s very hard.
C: Well, and it?s going to continue to be hard, but again, she did say something with the hate, anger, and revenge, and that?s something that everyone has to get over. Life doesn?t have reverse. We can?t back up. We can?t change anything. We?d like to.
H: I like what you say. You don?t get over the death. You learn to live with it and you learn to move on but I love how you continue your bonds with Patti even though she?s not physically here. You continued the relationship in so many ways metaphorically with her, and I think that is so important because even though my brother?s not here physically, he?s with me in spirit in many other ways. I hear his laughter in my ears. I remember him in my heart, in my memories. So he?s a big part of my life even though he?s not physically with me.
C: Well, one of the things that makes it a little bit easier for Patti?s mother and me is the fact that she was an organ and tissue donor. By the way, besides the organs, she did donate about 30 bone and tissue samples. This will aid in the recovery of victims of fire accidents and birth defects.
G: Let?s bring this up again. We?ve got to go on break so when we come back, let?s talk more about that organ donation and what Patti gave.
When we were on break, we were having a quick discussion. Heidi and I were saying to Chet we thought it was great, if you were listening earlier, we had a caller, Rose, that Chet picked up on her anger and then he said something that I really liked. Chet, are you going to say it again? About anger?
C: Two things that I?ve learned. I?m 70 so I?ve had a chance to learn a few things. I read somewhere a long time ago that the longer you hold a grudge, the heavier it gets, and the second part is I will not allow hate, anger and revenge to control my life, and this is what you can do when you accidentally lose a child. When someone else was driving the automobile, you can sit there and stew and consume yourself. How I got over the situation is I forgave the young man. He was unfortunate. He was involved in an accident. We all could have been involved in an accident.
G: Chet, how long did it take before you forgave him? Do you remember?
C: Yeah. As I told you earlier, the two boys decided to fly to Knoxville.
G: Yeah, now Patti is in the hospital and they said that she would be dying any moment and she?s still hanging on and your two boys went to Knoxville.
C: They went to Knoxville and then they call that evening and Patti was still alive although unconscious, and the way that one son was describing to me, he says it appears that they?re going to take mechanical assist or life support away the next day, and I wanted to be there in that case so me and my wife and my oldest daughter flew to Knoxville. While we were there, the young man came into the room and he was just absolutely petrified of what I might say or do to him over this accident, and I forgave him at that time.
H: That?s pretty remarkable to be able to forgive him that quickly.
C: Well, accidents are just exactly what that is. Accidents. I don?t feel that he was any more negligent than maybe I was at some time in my life or maybe you were sometime in your life. It?s just that it happened. Life doesn?t have reverse. We can?t change anything. This woulda, coulda, shoulda stuff, that?s exactly what it is. It?s nothing.
G: So we?d say to you folks out there, if you?re holding on to your anger, you?ve got to find some way to give it up because it?s no good.
C: It?ll control your life.
G: Chuck, can you go on for our audience and talk about getting the heart and where you were when you were operated on and how that all went?
C: Yes, I do, and I encourage people to be involved with organ donation. One person can help an awful lot of people and it?s a new life. You say eleven years. It?s almost twelve. It?ll be twelve in August since I?ve had the transplant, and I?ll go to town or I?ll go somewhere and people haven?t seen me. Chet, how are you, and the first thing they ask is how are you feeling? because they don?t know much about organ transplant. How?re you doing? In fact today, I went to town twice and I?ll bet you I was asked that four times today. And of course I?m all too happy to say I feel great, I feel wonderful, super, any way that I can to be positive. But in my own mind, knowing how I felt before transplant and how well I feel today, that I believe that I have experienced the greatest miracle this side of heaven.
H: And Patti gave you the greatest gift she could before she died. A heart.
C: Absolutely. And you know what?s really unusual? When I was first offered Patti?s heart, I turned it down immediately. I just couldn?t conceive of anything like that.
G: And where were you when they said that?
C: At the hospital.
G: They were going to unhook the respirator and they probably asked you before?
C: Well, no. If you consent to organ donation, they do not disconnect the respirator. They keep it on and it?s done for a very specific reason. The lungs are controlled by the brain. When the brain stops to function, the lungs quit functioning and then the heart works off of oxygen, and it will continue to beat a little while until the oxygen runs out. It?s pretty much like a lawnmower. When you run out of gas, it stops. So by keeping the respirator on, the lungs are profusing the heart with oxygen and it will continue to beat and it will circulate oxygenated blood throughout the system and keep all of the organs viable.
G: But they already know there?s no brain function. They can see on the monitors.
C: They already know the brain is deceased. So they can keep a heart beating for a couple of days with the respirator and of course some liquids and what have you. And then it?s all done to keep the organs viable.
G: Did they prepare you at that hospital?
C: No. Let me finish the story. First we turned it down and our flight wasn?t back to Detroit until 7:00 in the evening. This is about 3:00 in the afternoon that I was offered Patti?s heart that I turned it down. And as the case with me and the health I was in, I knew that I was running on adrenalin at that point, and I knew when the adrenalin wore off that my strength would be gone because usually I could muddle through until noon and then after lunch, I?d have to take a nap. Sometimes my energy would come back, sometimes it would take two, three, four days to come back. And when we went to Tennessee, I was fortunate to get a motel-type room right in the hospital so we could stay with Patti 24 hours a day so I thought before we flew back that I had better go and lay down, and while I was walking to the elevator, and I had one floor to go down. I don?t want to sound corny at this point, but I believe that Patti was pleading with me to accept her heart.
G: That?s very touching.
H: She probably was.
G: Yeah, I?m sure she was.
C: And you want to know something? And this is maybe weeks afterwards. Patti?s friends still come to the house and, of course, they?re married now and they have their own families. But I began to find out one by one that many times Patti had said to them, ?I wish there was some way I could give dad my heart.?
H: Ah, that gives me chills.
C: But I never knew that. And Patti?s mother never knew that until after the fact so if I had really stuck to my guns and refused Patti?s heart and found that out, I would have regretted that decision the rest of my life. I wanted to say one other thing at how I?m able to cope a little bit better than most being that Patti was an organ donor because she donated all the organs, she donated so many tissues that helped so many people, that Patti?s mother and I and her brothers and sisters feel that we know that Patti is gone, but she?s not dead because she?s alive in so many others. So that gives us a little comfort.
H: And I?m sure the family and her siblings appreciate the fact that you took her heart because they didn?t have to lose a father also and your wife didn?t have to lose her husband.
C: Exactly. That was a big concern with my having a heart transplant because this would have been the fourth surgery to open my chest. I had three prior surgeries on my heart so a lot of scar tissue was built up. We knew this would be a risky surgery because of all the scar tissues and my wife was very concerned that her heart?s available but you might die during surgery. Well, fortunately, I didn?t. I woke up from surgery feeling well, it?s almost twelve years now and I?ve not had a bad day since.
H: That?s fabulous.
G: That?s a wonderful story and one of the things I want to say to our audience out there, if you have had a health problem or if you had a pre-existing health problem before your child died, please take care of yourself and listen to Chet and the fact that he takes care of himself, I?m sure, Chet. You have certain things, regimes that you still have to do don?t you? Some rejection drugs.
C: Oh, yes, I take medication twice a day, 9:00 in the morning and 9:00 at night. Some of them are amniosuppressants that keep my body from destroying Patti?s heart and others are for existing conditions. I take medication for cholesterol, I take blood pressure medication, stuff that probably most people take.
G: So please as we say take care of yourself out there and be healthy as you can for the other people in your life and for yourself and for your loved ones who certainly don?t want you to go downhill. Your child that has died certainly doesn?t want to see you go downhill also and your loved ones around you. So Chet tell us about organ donation and how people do it and what you found out and that kind of thing.
C: The thing I would suggest for everyone to do, the first step is at a family gathering, whether it be at the dinner table or holiday or what have you, it would be nice to discuss with the family members has anyone ever considered being an organ donor, and there will be a lot of questions and what have you. If the consensus is yes, if something should happen to me, I want to help as many people as I can, then when you renew your driver?s license, or you can go online to any of your organ procurement organizations, you can become a donor candidate, and when the time comes, why then you can make a miracle happen like what happened to me. You can save a lot of people?s health.
H: Have you met anybody, Chet, that have Patti?s organs?
C: Yes. I met a lady who got one of Patti?s kidneys and I met the young girl who got Patti?s liver. We were in Tennessee and the young lady at the time of Patti?s death was 15 years old and she had a liver transplant the day that Patti died and it failed, and the doctors came out to her mother and said I?m sorry there?s nothing else we can do and then Patti?s liver became available.
G: Chet, can we finish this story after we come back from break about this young lady that got Patti?s liver?
C: As I mentioned earlier, the day Patti died, this young lady had a liver transplant and it failed, and, of course, when you lose your liver, you?re done. Fortunately, Patti?s liver became available. It worked. The young lady has since graduated from high school. We hear from her occasionally. She?s married now, has a family, and things are like my case, just super. The other lady that I met was a grandmother, and she received one of Patti?s kidneys. She had been on dialysis prior to that and I don?t know if anyone is familiar with dialysis but it consumes an awful lot of time and, of course, is not a quality of life that any of us want to experience for any length of time. She had received one of Patti?s kidneys and when I met her, she told me she had one son, but she didn?t tell me why, but she had been given the responsibility of caring for his three children. Now there?s no way anyone on chemo can take care of three young children but she did and I met the family. The lady is bouncy and bubbly and the kids are just wonderful. So there are two great stories besides my own of where organ donation is really giving someone back a quality of life again.
H: And giving them their life.
C: Giving them their life, exactly right.
G: Heidi, you were talking about an open casket?
H: Yes. A lot of people I know are concerned that if they become organ donors, that they will not be able to have an open casket at their funerals. Is that true or not? That?s not true, right, Chet?
C: You said concern and I call these fears misconceptions of organ donations. And yes, if open casket is your custom, you can be an organ and tissue donor and still have open casket because any recovery of organs and tissues is done in a manner which is not visible from the casket. If they take long bones from the arms, it is done on the underside. It?s done in the same sterile situation as a regular surgery because these bones have to be re-used again. A prosthesis is put back to keep the body rigid. If skin is removed, it?s an area that?s not visible from the grave, and I was not at Patti?s funeral. I was in the hospital. But to the people who were at Patti?s funeral, if they had not known Patti was an organ and tissue donor, they would have never guessed it from her appearance in the casket. That has absolutely nothing to do with being prepared for an open casket funeral.
G: Chuck, could you talk to our people out there who do have health problems and have had a child die. How did you deal with that grief, the terrible pain and suffering, and recovering from surgery?
H: That?s what I was wondering. You had to take care of yourself. You had to remain strong, but yet you were grieving.
C: Well, probably the best thing I did in retrospect, I think I probably did it by accident. Number one, I forgave the young man who was driving and I had read somewhere that the longer you hold a grudge, the heavier it gets, and I had read somewhere that you do not allow hate, anger, and revenge to control your life, and if you can eliminate those things, the rest of it, time will take care of you, and, of course, do something. Do something that you like to do. Don?t just sit there and dwell on the loss.
G: Or maybe even start a new hobby or something.
C: And what I did is I started a hobby that turned into a business.
G: Could you just mention that, your Christmas trees, right?
C: Yes, and even though I feel good, I still do not do the physical work. One of my sons liked us. He?s the general manager of my farm. He hires. In fact, they?re out planting trees right now. And really my job today is, I always kid around, I?m the fellow with the smile on his face with his hands in his pockets standing next to the people doing all of the work. And my wife says I do that job well.
G: Now your wife suggested the Christmas trees, right?
C: When I became ill, I had to stop work abruptly.
G: And you worked for Sears as a salesperson.
C: Yeah, and I burned a candle at both ends because I sold home improvement so I was gone all hours of the day and many times well after the children were in bed and then all of a sudden to work this hard and then stop, the walls were creeping in on me. The ceiling was going to crush me, and my wife suggested, she said, why don?t you grow a few Christmas trees? You?d probably like that, and fortunately, I had some property in Northern Michigan and so I knew that I couldn?t physically do the work so I went to Michigan State University and I got some tips and it was my job to study and learn the cultural practices, and it still is today.
H: And the thing about losing a sibling for me was when somebody dies that?s close to you, you feel like you?ve been victimized. You feel like something?s been done to you. You feel helpless, and you?re sitting there helpless, not knowing what to do, and to get active and do something really helps healing, I think.
C: Absolutely. If you don?t have a hobby, think of something that you?d really wanted to do which you never did before and do it. Get your mind off of your grief. Get your mind off how you feel. Get involved with a new topic because all the grieving and all the feeling bad is not going to change anything.
G: Now when we?re talking about our really early grievers out there, first year, six months, one month, hey, take care of yourself. What Chet?s talking about will come for you and it should come.
C: There?s nothing wrong with a good cry every so often. Don?t make it a 24-hour cry.
G: Chet, it?s almost time for our show to close. Can you tell people how they can get in touch with you or think about organ donation or whatever.
C: Well, you can either email the station. They can forward the information.
G: Yeah, you can go through www.healingthegrievingheart.org and I can get a hold of Chet.
C: Or you can go through the Gift of Life in Michigan. They have an 800 number. It?s 1 800-482-4881. If you want to get in touch with me, they will handle all of the information and I?ll certainly be happy to get back to you.
G: Great. Well, Chet, thanks so much for being on our show and thank you to your wonderful, lovely Patti for all the good she?s done in the world and for you for all the help you?re giving and speaking at the National Conference. We hope people will come. Heidi and I will be presenting in Detroit, Michigan, on July 14 through 16. Please come to that conference and hear Chet. It?s time for us to close our show now, and thanks to Chet Szuber.

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