By Pati Dyer
I have a special story of love to share with you. Organ donation has touched my life three times and I have been profoundly changed by the love passed on through donation.
My uncle, John Thomas, died unexpectedly at 20 years old. On March 17, 1991, John was declared brain dead after a sudden accident. Though John was my uncle, there were only two years between us and he was more like a brother to me. John was a fun-loving young man who worked hard as a supervisor in a factory. He was also a motorcycle enthusiast, with a collection of 12 motorcycles – only one that actually ran! My grandparents knew that making the decision to donate his organs was a special way to impact the lives of others. Growing up with their influence, we all learned how to display acts of kindness and show our love to all. I was proud of John and the lasting legacy he was able to leave. I never imagined I would one day be on the other side of donation.
Seventeen years later I was thrilled to learn that my daughter, Drea, was expecting her second child – there is something so special about the gift of grandchildren! Her pregnancy was normal until we discovered that our granddaughter would be born without the left side of her heart fully developed. After several tests, and only weeks before her birth, we learned she had two other deadly heart defects.
Our excitement turned to fear as we realized our granddaughter’s chance of survival was very slim. Bridget Johnson was born November 28, 2007. This beautiful, but ill, child came into our world weighing only 4 pounds, and measuring 16 inches. I remember hearing a faint whimper just before the nurses hooked her up to a ventilator. I wouldn’t hear her sweet voice again for several weeks. Her heart was broken and so were ours.
In Bridget’s first days of life, we had more close calls then I can count. When she was five weeks old we were told that she would need a heart transplant to survive but that miracle was unlikely to come due to her age and her size. Bridget was placed on the national transplant waiting list on December 31, 2007. We watched her disease progress and knew that she didn’t have much time left. We mentally prepared for her funeral.
On January 18, 2008, we got “the call” – a call we never thought would come. We are deeply touched by the decision her donor family made. Because of their generous choice to donate life, Bridget got a second chance. Her donor, Trinidy, was just 3 months old. Our miracle had arrived. But we also mourned the loss of Trinidy, knowing all too well the pain a family feels at the time of a loved one’s death. We prayed for that family as we waited for Bridget to come out of surgery.
Bridget recovered fully after her transplant and we witnessed her “rebirth.” She was pink and healthy as a newborn baby should be! After Bridget’s transplant, I made a promise to God that I would be a vessel for his love to flow through and would pay love forward. Shortly after Bridget’s transplant, I became a volunteer for Lifeline of Ohio and began working in my community to raise awareness about organ and tissue donation.
I’ve traveled throughout Ohio, working at health fairs, giving presentations, and sharing our story at dozens of events. I’ve spoken to many people about the importance of becoming a registered donor. For those that doubted the impact of organ donation, I simply show them Bridget’s beautiful picture.
As gratifying as volunteering was, I still felt my work was incomplete. I felt I had not reached my full potential. So I started researching living kidney donation. On December 4, 2008, almost a year after Bridget received a new heart; I made the decision to be an altruistic living kidney donor.
Although my family and friends supported my decision, they showed concern for the health implications. My husband, Chuck, stood by me – He understood why I was doing this, sometimes better than I understood it myself. He comforted me on my journey to save a life, and a family. I can never thank him enough for being my husband and being my strength.
Hours before my surgery, we were given an opportunity to meet my kidney recipient, Barb, and her family. What a wonderful family they are! Ken and Barb had been waiting for more than four years and things were not looking good. She endured 38 surgeries due to dialysis and had three “calls” for transplants that all were rejected at the last minute. I found out later that her family expected this call to be the same.
I fell in love with the family immediately upon meeting them!
Barb received my right kidney on June 26, 2009 and her health improved immediately. It was good to know that she could begin looking forward to a normal life again. Her hopes and dreams had been realized. It was amazing to watch the transformation in their family, just as we experienced with Bridget.
My act of kindness not only restored faith in a family that lost hope, it strengthened my family’s love for all mankind. My hope is that by sharing my story of love, I can continue to inspire others, especially my family members, to always show their love with acts of kindness, just as my grandparents taught me.
You don’t have to be a living kidney donor to show your love. You can register as a donor. You can be an advocate for organ and tissue donation. You can share your story and volunteer in our community and with your help, we will give hope to the thousands of Americans waiting for a transplant.