My good friend and colleague Deanna Hendrich contributed the “from the heart” blog below.
A 10-year-old girl named Sarah riveted the nation’s attention a few days ago when she received a desperately needed lung transplant. Her story followed on the heels of “Donate Life” month in April, when a network of organ and tissue donation organizations from across the country reached out to potential donors.
I was glad to see the topic discussed so broadly as my life has been touched significantly by organ donation. A cousin has received new corneas. A friend has received a kidney, a gift from his sister. Another friend has donated a kidney, a gift to her husband. And my 9-year-old niece Olivia, who died last November, received a heart not once but twice from the families of children who generously looked past their heart-wrenching sorrow to help another child.
What I wish, though, is that organ donation would become a part of our everyday conversation. That we would welcome end-of-life discussions as a way to move past the idea that medicine and technology can fix everything and that one of us will be the first person to live forever. Because they can’t. And you won’t. Neither will I.
In Modern Healthcare, a medical trade magazine that I read regularly, the cover story this week is about the shortage of organs, which is getting worse because advancements in medicine and technology are increasing the number of people who qualify for transplants, and the number of organs transplanted has leveled off. The article quotes Dr. J. Michael Mills at University of Chicago Medicine as saying “It’s a zero-sum game” because “We don’t have enough organs.”
Part of the problem is that more people could donate but have not chosen to do so. I would ask you to please thoughtfully consider this choice. My husband and I have had several discussions about organ donation, and when I first asked him how he felt about it, he gave me a typically practical but also powerful answer: “It’s not like I’m going to be using them any more.”
Another complicating issue is the donation itself. If you have made the choice to donate, please know that it isn’t enough to sign the back of your driver’s license or sign up with www.DonateLifeMissouri.com although I applaud you and thank you if you have. If you have joined an organ and tissue donor registry since 2008, your family does not have to give permission for donation to happen, but talk to them about your choice, anyway. You also need to talk to your doctor, your minister and anyone else who might be a part of the discussion when end-of-life decisions will be made because they will not be made in a vacuum. Communication prevents surprises, especially during a difficult time, and helps ensure that your wishes will be carried out.
Finally, those of us who work in healthcare need to make sure that we are part of the solution. We have a responsibility to create a climate in which we can honestly talk with families about what happens next when the person they love with their whole heart has reached the end. We must find a way to talk without unneeded drama or pressure about how an opportunity exists to give back and perhaps to make a little more sense of their loss.
Olivia received a precious gift twice, and despite her overwhelming health issues, other people benefited when she left us. For my brother and sister-in-law, and for millions of organ and tissue transplant recipients, there is absolutely no doubt about whether it is the right thing to do.