By Colleen Swabby, donor sister
February 10, 1999 changed my life. I was relaxing at home when my mother called me and said she was hearing sirens and she felt it in her heart that something had happened to my brother, Greg. I thought to myself there was no way, that Greg was okay, but at the same time I had to go to her.
I didn’t even change out of my pajamas and within ten minutes I was with my mom walking to the intersection at the top of her street. There were people everywhere, firetrucks, police cars and an ambulance taking my brother away. He had been racing home to catch the second half of the Buckeyes basketball game and he had been hit by a car.
We followed the ambulance to Riverside Methodist Hospital where we waited. Greg was quickly moved to the Neuro Intensive Care Unit. He looked fine, like he was just sleeping, but the nurses and doctor explained that when he was struck he landed on the back of his head and he was brain dead.
I hated them for saying that, he could not be brain dead and even if he was we could keep him on machines, right? No. This could not happen to my family. For the first time in my life I fully understood the term ‘heartbroken.’ I could feel my heart breaking into a million pieces. I was mad, hurt, scared. I began to bargain with God to bring him back. My brother’s life was over and I was selfishly crying because I would never get to hug him or laugh with him or even argue with him again.
My family members held each other, trying to get a grasp on what was happening, when we were approached with the question of organ and tissue donation.
How many times have we heard after someone has died that they were the most giving, loving person? Greg was. He would and did literally give the coat off his back to a homeless man out in the cold. He would take time and converse with the people that most would cross the street to avoid. He took time to befriend those who were deemed societal rejects and found the beauty in what made them different. I was always so proud of the way he gave of himself, not tangible items, but himself. He loved sharing and it made him happy. Even as children he would let me go through his Easter basket to pick out the jelly beans I wanted. He was talented and gifted in so many ways but helping someone in need and making their life a little bit better was his greatest of gifts.
Yes, of course we would donate. He would be so proud to know that his final gift was the ultimate gift of life. This was the first moment where I felt my heart coming back together.
We asked only for the time to get my large family and Greg’s friends together to say goodbye. My family was united in agreement with the decision to donate and the idea was embraced by everyone who knew and loved my brother.
The nurse, Diana, who stayed with us until we said our final goodbye was an angel on earth. She had a brother who was an organ donor and she answered all of our questions.
My younger sisters had a close friend whose grandfather was on dialysis and was waiting on a kidney. We asked Diana if we could help him even though he was in Florida? Was it possible? Yes.
There are no words to describe calling a man who’s life is jeopardy and telling him that we wanted to give him my brother’s kidney. He got on that plane and within hours the transplant took place.
Thirteen years later he is doing great. He is spending time with his wife, children and grandchildren. Living life as he should, but was not allowed due to the constraints of a dialysis machine. Countless lives were changed that day because of Greg. I don’t know who would be more proud, me or him.
I have always been an organ donor but to be honest I had never really thought about it much before that night. Who wants to think about such tragedy? Human nature dictates that we divert such thoughts. When you have to face such a tragedy you are initiated into the club that no one wants to be in. I can tell you as a member of this club that the ONLY way to make any sense of a tragedy of this magnitude is via organ and tissue donation. It gives you focus. It allows you relieve yourself of the execrable feeling that your loved ones life was wasted.
Greg’s final gift was more than the lives he saved and touched, he gave me the best gift I have ever received. His gift to me is the sense of peace that he is living on. I see this same feeling in the eyes of other organ donor family members that I know. When I see the gratitude in the eyes of organ recipients I can’t help but get a warm feeling in my heart. There is an unpoken communication between donor families and recipients that a delivers a very clear message of appreciation beyond words. I guess to me it is just another aspect to the meaning of the circle of life.
We cannot control what life deals us and as my dad says, ‘nothing in life is fair.’ Is it fair to lose a loved one? No. Is it fair to suffer through dialysis, impaired vision or blindness, heart problems (this list unfortunately goes on and on)? No. Is it a wonderful feeling helping someone in such great need? YES. I can attest that YES it is a wonderful feeling to celebrate my sweet brother Greg.