Monday, October 17, 2005

The Gift

Today a woman I know got a chance for a new life. Stephanie is a professional composer who has also worked as a mathematician and a computer programmer. More than a year ago, she had to move back home because Type I diabetes was killing her. Her kidneys had failed; she was sick all the time, on dialysis, not sure she would live to receive a transplant.

Today, in a grueling 12-hour operation, she received two donated kidneys and a pancreas. The kidneys are working; in 48 hours, we’ll know if the pancreas is, too. If it is, she won’t be diabetic any more. Cured. Free again to create music, to laugh with her friends, to work hard and support herself.

I don’t know much about the young man whose kidneys and pancreas are giving Stephanie a future. He was 21. He fell off a roof and died. He and his family were generous enough to share the healthy organs he couldn’t use with someone whose life would have ended without them. This way, only one family has to grieve an early death. And all the people who know Stephanie, everyone who hears her music, will be blessed and enriched by that young man. Many of us are praying for his family. He will live on in his final act of generosity.

When Diane was killed, it took a long time for the EMTs to get her out of the car—so long that only her corneas were suitable for transplanting. They were taken, and today someone sees better because Diane gave that final gift. It’s a tiny consolation in the vast desolation of heartbreak that her death left behind.

I have the “Organ Donor” option checked on my driver’s license. More than that, my doctor, my HMO, my family, and my friends all know what I want done with my body when I die. I’ve left detailed written instructions with my family and medical advisers. When the organs are taken, there will be plenty left over for a funeral. I could even have an open casket, if anyone wants that. And no, my family will not have to pay for the organ removal. That’s an urban legend.

Half the people waiting for transplants will die without getting them. Stephanie could have been one of them—a young, vibrant, talented woman whose music would have been silenced forever.

Keep the music playing. Become an organ donor. Document your decision, and tell your family. Give life.

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