By Reg Green —
I spend my life writing about, speaking about and thinking about organ and tissue donation. As a cause, its value needs no explanation: a simple decision can save the lives of several people and relieve many more of pain and fear. But, what is much less understood, is that those who made that choice often find it also has a consoling effect they never foresaw.
Since my seven-year-old son was killed 14 years ago, my wife and I have met hundreds of other donor families around the world and received thousands of emails, phone calls and letters. In all that time, and in all those miles, I can scarcely remember one family who regretted the decision.
In fact, with a near-unanimity that is astonishing among people of such diverse beliefs, personalities, ages and nationalities, those I come into contact with say the donation was the only good thing to come out of a terrible time.
Obviously, each of those families would have done everything in its power to have saved that loved one and it is only when a family recognizes that all hope has gone that the transplant coordinator steels herself and asks them if they will donate. It must be one of the most difficult questions in the whole of medicine: asking people, grappling with the finality of death and confused – or frightened — by the whole idea of organ donation, to give their consent to a process whose benefits they can only dimly perceive.
Many say no instinctively, others have an urgent discussion among themselves, with sometimes tempers high and relationships strained, and some who say yes are still at that moment plagued with doubts. But for others, it comes as a relief that, after all, something positive can come out of what otherwise has no good in it at all.
The first surprise for many donor families is how many people their donation helped. The second is how quickly most recipients recover.
Many people – I was one — have a vague impression of a heart or corneas making life better for someone. But, in addition, new lungs can come like a miracle to people who are having to force every breath in and out; the kidneys can free patients from being hooked up to machines that clean their blood three days a week, four hours a day; the pancreas can cure the brutal affliction of diabetes; a liver recipient, facing death, can recover strength so completely that, as one famous recipient did, one can win an Olympic medal. I know a man who was completely blind for 48 years and had never seen any of his five children. Now, thanks to a transplanted cornea, he can drive a car. Even for the families who were unsure at the time, transformations like these banish doubts.
Some people think of that loved one living on in some way in those other bodies and that too must be heartwarming. Maggie, my wife, and I have never felt that. But what we have felt is pride that our little boy saved people in desperate need when no one else in the world could.
Many people reading this article have lost someone very dear and the decision about donation, one way or the other, was made long ago. But that is not the end. We can all make it easier for someone who loves us to deal with our own death. If they donate our organs or tissue, because we told them that is what we wanted, they too can feel the healing effect of knowing that even in the act of dying we made the world a little better.
Reg Green’s book “The Gift that Heals,” is available online at www.nicholasgreen.orgTags: belongings, funerals, money, grief, hope