Thursday, April 03, 2008

Organ Donation: The Gift of Life

April is Donate Life Month in the United States and it's wonderful to see that many states have joined in with their programs to promote organ donation awareness such as this initiative in Michigan.

From wzzm13 in Michigan:

April is "Donate Life Month," a time to encourage organ donation.

Wednesday, Secretary of State Offices around the state recognized the month by encouraging people to sign up on the Michigan Organ Donor Registry. (Residents of other states can find out how to register at Donate Life.)

It is the ultimate gift, the gift of life. It's a gift that means so much to the recipient and the donor's family.

Tom Regan turned 18 in 1988. His mother Mary Regan says, “His 18th birthday was the 25th of August. And he came home and we were having dinner and he told us, and he did this on his own. He had gone to the post office and he had registered to vote. He had signed up for selective service and he also signed a donor card.”

Mary recalls another time when her son said, “Dad, with all the deaths on the highway, why is it that don't they just give it away? Why do they waste it by being buried?"

Two months later, Mary Regan recalls, “On the 21st of October, he had a massive cerebral bleed and he died." Tom had recently been diagnosed with a clotting disorder, but his mother said he was getting better.

When he died, the Regans donated Tom's organs. Mary says it was easier because they knew that was what his wished. She explains, “When we were approached in the hospital by the doctors about organ donation, we already knew. We already knew what he wanted to have done. It made it that much easier for us to agree to that because it was his wish and we knew that.”

Regan adds, “It is an indescribable agony to lose a child and have to bury a child. It's just so very unnatural, but having donated organs, gave some meaning to something that has absolutely no meaning."

Donations like the Regans have a lot of meaning for Peggy Otto. She is here today because she received a double lung transplant. Otto says, “Back in 1991 I had a strep infection that within 24 hours I was on life support."

She recovered, but with just 40 percent of her lung capacity. She lived with this impairment for more than a decade, until her lungs began to totally fail. After a couple years on a waiting list, she had her transplant in 2004.

Otto helped spread the word about organ donation at the Secretary of State's "Buddy Day." She and all organ recipients appreciate their donors. She says, “A big thank you. They have no clue how they change your life."

Mary Regan does have a clue, though. She says, “Two weeks before Christmas I received a card and a copy of a newspaper article from the man who had received Tom's heart. And this was 19 and a half years later."

The card came at just the right time. Mary had a hard time that 19th year, knowing her son had been gone longer than he had been alive.

So, the note reaffirms such an important gift. Regan says, “As the mother, the heart that started beating on the 25th of August, 1970, continues to beat strong today."

Organ donation is obviously very important in the Regan family. Mary's son Jim is a living organ donor. He donated a kidney to his father in law in 2001. Both are doing fine today.

Transplants can often be life saving. But, many are life altering. Three year old Julia LaGrand of Grand Rapids and six year old Kayleigh Jordan of Fennville both received cornea transplants.

Kayleigh Jordan was almost two when she fell and injured her eye. That injury took the vision from one eye, and she needed a cornea transplant. Her mother Marybeth Jordan asked Kayleigh, “Since your transplant, can you see better out of your right eye? Is it clearer, a little bit?” Kayleigh responded, “It's clearer, a little bit. That means I can see a little bit better."

Julia LaGrand was born with a condition that caused extremely thick corneas, so all she could see was light and dark. Her mother Melissa LaGrand says her transplant, “changed her life. I just can't, I would just have to imagine what life would be like without it. She's has such a full life, just can keep up with other kids. It's such an amazing gift, we're so grateful for it."

Now, both are thriving, growing, and learning today because they are able to see so much better because of their cornea transplants. Kayleigh says her favorite part of school is recess and Julia tries to skateboard with her older siblings.

Because she knows the importance of donations, Melissa LaGrand, took about a minute to sign up on the updated Michigan Organ Donor Registry.. You get a heart symbol on your driver's license to let everyone know you are a donor. The updated information is stored in a server that doctors and nurses can access in case of an emergency.

Michigan is now stepping into line with other states when it comes to organ donation. A new, stronger law goes into effect May 1, 2008. Organ donation supporters hope the new law will make it easier for more people to donate. There are more than 3,000 people in Michigan on organ waiting lists..

“You Have the Power to Save Lives – Sign Your Donor Card & Tell Your Loved Ones of Your Decision”

Download Donor Cards from Trillium Gift of Life Network

Download Donor Cards from OrganDonor.Gov

Your generosity can save up to eight lives through organ donation and enhance another 50 through tissue donation

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