What if you had an illness that destroyed one of your vital organs? What if you only had one chance to make it through the next year of your life? And that chance was not guaranteed? But without taking that chance you might not live another year?
What if you could have a second chance at your life?
A few months ago I wrote about the realities of transplant surgery, based on our personal experience of my husband’s cornea transplant. It’s something very few of us actually think about. Until it happens to us.
A few short months ago, a coworker of my husband’s underwent a lifesaving kidney transplant. In this situation the donor was delighted to be able to give the gift of her kidney to someone who desperately needed it. Because that person who needed it was her father. As she said, she had two working kidneys, and she only needed one. And after four months, both donor and recipient are doing fine!
That was a special situation. As our friend’s daughter said, you only need one kidney in order to live.
But you can’t live without a heart. Or lungs. Or a liver. Sure, you can donate one lung, or a portion of your liver, pancreas, or even your intestines. There have even been a few rare cases in which a family member has donated one of their eyes to another family member in order to give them the gift of sight. But such cases are, as we said, extremely rare, and not encouraged by the medical profession.
When the actual reality of organ donation hits home, when you or a loved one are facing an organ donation procedure to save a life, your mind goes in so many directions at one time that you don’t know which direction to walk in. Because it’s almost always a procedure involving an organ that is only available due to the death of someone else.
As a Christian, how do you pray for that? You certainly don’t want to pray for someone to die. But for the majority of organ transplants, that’s what happens. Someone has to die in order for those organs to be donated.
It’s a sobering thought. One you don’t think about until you’re in that place. I can’t begin to describe it.
Recently a friend of ours was told she needed a double lung transplant. And needed it soon… That’s a lot bigger than our friend’s kidney transplant or my husband’s partial cornea transplant. She was put on a waiting list and told she’d be notified when the lungs were available.
Which meant someone had to die.
And then, less than two weeks later, they got the call. A pair of lungs were available. In the transplant world, that’s a quick response.
Someone had died. And so they headed to the hospital.
Only to be told that everything wasn’t quite ready for them. You see, there is so much more involved in the whole procedure than any of us would ever think about. At least, those of us who are watching from the outside, just waiting and praying that our friend will get the desperately needed organs in time. The lungs were functioning perfectly, but there was still a problem. They hadn’t yet decided who was to receive the heart yet, and until they did, they couldn’t harvest the organs.
The donor was on life supports. The body was alive, but the spirit, the soul, the essence of who the donor had been, was already gone. The brain had already ceased to function. For all intents and purposes the donor was dead. But the body was still functioning…with help.
And the donor’s family was in limbo. Their loved one was for all intents and purposes gone. But yet…not really. And as much as I’m sure they kept hoping, kept thinking that a miracle could still happen and their loved one return to them, they knew. They didn’t want to accept it, but they knew….
Then came another problem when the lungs were finally harvested and put on the machine to test them. They weren’t good; years of abuse had made them unsuitable for donation to our friend.
So once again it was a waiting game, but one that quickly reached a resolution when another donor came available. A donor whose lungs tested as a good match, as well as being strong and healthy. The wait was over, almost, and the lungs were put on a plane and flown to the hospital where our friend was waiting. She was tired, very hungry from being without food for almost 24 hours in anticipation of the surgery, excited, and yes, I’m sure, nervous. As was her husband.
I’m sure the range of emotions were exhausting, knowing she had a second chance because someone had no more chances. Yet that person had still made the unselfish choice to give a gift to others when he passed away. A precious gift that was more appreciated than gold.
The lungs weren’t a perfect fit, since they had come from a man, and our friend is a woman. But the surgeons “stuffed” them in, and almost six weeks later, she’s still doing well, following doctors’ orders exactly, and looking forward to the day she can begin to resume her normal routine, and begin living life to the fullest once again.
Many times we think of organ donation as just a check mark on our driver’s license. We don’t stop to think what it really means. That in most cases it’s actually the difference in life and death for someone we’ll never know.
It is a gift of life; a gift of a second chance. I’ll always wonder who it was who gave my husband the gift of restored sight in his left eye several years ago. And I imagine our friend will always wonder about the man who gave his lungs so she could have a second chance at life.
Many other recipients think the same way, and often wonder about that unselfish person, who, although he or she wasn’t planning to die that particular day, in leaving this world, left behind something of immeasurable value.
I cannot imagine being in either place, either as a potential recipient waiting and wondering if the organs will be found in time, or as the family of the donor, who has lost someone irreplaceable.
The expense of a second chance is impossible to calculate; impossible to understand unless you’ve been through it.
For my friend, I am beyond grateful for her second chance, yet still saddened that someone had to die in order for her to live. For my husband, I am also beyond grateful for his gift of sight in that eye, yet still aware that it came at a very high price from someone else.
Organ donation and organ transplants happen on a daily basis now. But it’s a true miracle each and every time.
Think about it. How would you feel in this situation?
Your own reaction if/when you face it, may totally surprise you.
Author’s note: If you are already registered as an organ donor, thank you. If not, please consider it. Visit DonateLife America for more information.