From The Atlanta Journal Constitution
By Deborah Hicks
When I became an organ donor many years ago, I didn’t have a particular person in mind.
I wanted to do it because I knew my organs could save a life or help someone. I knew that my organs would be of no use to me after I died. There was no reason for me not to be an organ donor.
I didn’t study the statistics about how many people are waiting for organ transplants or how many parts of the body can be harvested.
Those numbers did not matter to me at the time. Now, they do.
My son, Shannon Leach, is one of the 37 people in Georgia and 2,898 in the United States who is awaiting a heart transplant. Doctors at Emory University Hospital put him on the transplant list in February of this year after four hospital visits for heart failure.
I check the list every day to see how many people are waiting for a heart, knowing that one of those numbers represents my son.
Maybe if you knew more about my son, you would make the choice to be an organ donor, too. At every fund-raiser, we provide information from LifeLink for people to become donors.
We are using every opportunity to let people know of the great need for donors and how easy it is to become one. People are dying every day just because there are perfectly good organs being buried in the ground!
Shannon, who is only 28 years old, was born with congenital heart disease. On the day he was born, we were told he would not live and then that he would only live with immediate surgery.
To make a long story shorter, he did not have to have surgery until he was 6. He had a procedure called a Fontan, which was relatively new at the time. At 16, he had to have a second surgery.
In spite of his heart defect, he was able to play baseball, basketball and golf, the sports he loves. He was able to go to college and finish with a degree in sports management. He worked in sports jobs in Florida and here in Atlanta.
But, now his life is on hold. He cannot work at all because he has a tube constantly dripping medicine into his heart so it will keep beating. He has to wear a defibrillator vest all the time in case his heartbeat becomes irregular. He has to watch his sodium and liquid intake. He cannot go more than four hours from Emory in case a heart becomes available.
A nurse comes once a week to change the bandage around his drip line and check his blood. He has to send a report from his vest via telephone once a week. He goes to the doctor at least once a month for a check.
In addition to the physical aspects of his condition, he must also deal with financial issues. Trying to acquire disability status with Social Security is an ongoing obstacle. He must also raise money to help with the anti-rejection medicine he will have to take for the rest of his life.
In spite of all he has to handle, my son has an excellent attitude. He may have a broken physical heart, but his soul heart is very strong.
His sense of humor keeps all of us upbeat. He is full of hope and faith that he will get a new heart and have a new life that is full of the things we take for granted.
He wants to be a husband, a father and a grandfather. He wants to start his own foundation to help those needing transplants. He wants to return to a job in sports, the field he loves so much. He wants everyone to become an organ donor.
He designed a bracelet that reads ALL HEART, which we are selling to help raise money. So far, we have sold over 1,000 of them.
We have had several very successful fund-raising events that have proven the kindness of strangers.
Even in this economy, people are opening their wallets to someone they don’t even know. It is hard for us to ask others for money, but we have no choice.
We are thankful to the Georgia Transplant Foundation for their assistance with this need. This foundation is helping so many people like my son.
I know I am prejudiced here because I am his mother, but go to his page on Facebook, “A Heart for Shannon Leach,” and you will see I am not the only one who thinks my son is a great guy who deserves a chance to live.
I cannot control when or if my son gets a new heart. I cannot stop him from dying if he doesn’t get one in time.
What I can do is love him, support him, help him raise money and help lead people to become donors to help the 112,300 people in the U.S. who are waiting for any kind of transplant.
It doesn’t take much of your time. It won’t hurt you. There is no red tape or long forms to complete. The life you save could be my son’s. Leave a legacy that will live on in someone else.
Deborah Hicks, a retired English teacher, lives in Oxford, Georgia.
“You Have the Power to Save Lives – Sign Your Donor Card & Tell Your Loved Ones of Your Decision”
Register to be a donor in Ontario or Download Donor Cards from Trillium Gift of Life Network. NEW for Ontario: recycleMe.org - Learn The Ins & Outs Of Organ And Tissue Donation. Register Today! For other Canadian provinces click here
In Great Britain, register at NHS Organ Donor Register
In Australia, register at Australian Organ Donor Register
Your generosity can save up to eight lives with heart, kidneys, liver, lungs, pancreas and small intestine transplants. One tissue donor can help up to 100 other people by donating skin, corneas, bone, tendon, ligaments and heart valves
Has your life been saved by an organ transplant? "Pay it forward" and help spread the word about the need for organ donation - In the U.S. another person is added to the national transplant waiting list every 11 minutes and 18 people die each day waiting for an organ transplant.