Saturday, December 7, 2013
PORTLAND - Late last Monday afternoon, somewhere in Region 1 of the organ donor program (which includes Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Bermuda and parts of Connecticut and Vermont), a man died and his organs were donated.
An undated photo shows pioneering cardiac surgeon Dr. Christiaan Barnard, second from right, performing heart surgery. There are 4,964 people waiting for an organ donation in Region 1, which includes Maine.
File photo/The Associated Press
While HIPAA privacy rules and United Network for Organ Sharing protocol do not allow direct contact with the donor's family, the recipient will one day be able to formally thank this family with a letter following the donor-recipient protocol.
In the meantime, I want to publicly thank you and take a moment and tell you about the man whose life you changed forever. I also hope that others will be touched by your gift and consider being an organ donor.
My brother-in-law was the recipient. I've known him for 44 years. I was just a kid when he started dating my sister, and they celebrated their 37th wedding anniversary this month. They have two children: a daughter, who is getting married this fall, and a son.
He started as a beat cop in a large city and spent his entire career in law enforcement. He saved lives, chased bad guys and loved every minute of it.
Several years ago, a virus killed half his heart, and three years ago, the other half gave out.
Twenty-seven months and 29 days ago, he was put on the heart transplant list. Four months later, he was given a mechanical heart known as a left ventricular assist device, or LVAD, that kept him alive until the morning of July 30, when he was given the greatest gift of all: life.
My brother-in-law was in great shape when the virus hit him, and he did his very best to stay that way.
In fact, the night before his surgery, he walked into the hospital and the cardiac intensive care unit, where members of the transplant team were waiting.
I tell you this because I want you to know he will honor, cherish and take care of his new heart as he has his body all of his life.
After the surgery, the transplant doctor told us that the donor heart was a perfect fit, the perfect heart.
When you are waiting all those months, the docs tell you that the wait is necessary because there aren't enough donors, but one day, your perfect heart will arrive. Some days you almost want to accept less than perfect -- but fortunately, they won't let you.
Currently there are 4,964 people in Region 1 waiting for an organ donation. Most of those people are waiting for a kidney. In 2012, there were 259 deceased donors and 751 transplants (up to eight organs can be recovered from one donor, and the average is around three).
Another factor that affects the number of transplants is the suitability of the donated organs.
One of the heart surgeons told me that a fair number of hearts available for transplant are not accepted because of the donor's underlying health issues and other medical considerations.
That is why most donated organs come from people who died suddenly, typically in an accident.
For those of us who believe in organ donation, it is imperative that we register now at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles or online (www.DonateLifeNewEngland.org) rather than leave it for our loved ones to deal with when their hearts are full of grief.
Wednesday morning when I visited my brother-in-law, I held his hand while he cried for the family who lost a loved one, saying how conflicting it was to know someone had to die so he could live.
We talked of his obligation to pay back the gift, first by embracing it and then by living his life as he always has, in service of others and with a love of family that is immeasurable.
I started this note by saying thank you. I know those words don't do justice to the pain you are experiencing.
I just hope and pray that knowing a little more will help to comfort you at this most difficult time. God bless you!
Paul G. Tyson is a resident of Portland.