How many people are affected by an organ donation? You’ll never count them all. Start with the recipient. Just one. Then imagine what it could be like for their immediate family to see them recovering, to see them well again. Imagine their friends, in school, or work, or their social networks. Imagine the holidays together again, the birthdays, the nights out, the nights in, the career paths, the making and weaving of the rest of an ordinary life…an extraordinary life, made possible by the kindness of (usually) strangers.
Some organ recipients are already parents. Some, thanks to that donor, may become parents later in their new life. Children who wouldn’t have been there without that transplant. Children, even grandchildren, and anyone else who may come after.
What if that person with the transplant was so full of their new life, the opportunities it brings and their refusal to take any of it for granted that they just can’t keep the story to themselves and it bursts out, loud and clear and full of joy? What if they know they can’t pay back the kindness they have been given and choose to pay it forward instead? What if they take every reasonable – and maybe even a bit reckless – opportunity to celebrate being alive and it spreads out to all they meet? What if their story makes it into the media, or onto these social media platforms, or into other networks of caring people, moved and inspired enough to pass it on? What if their local school promoted Organ Donation Week, their local churches lit their buildings in pink, local sports clubs promoted organ donation on their shirts and at their games?
What if they take chances to start conversations that may lead others to think about organ donation, talking about it with their family and friends? What if even one of those conversations makes it possible for one more person to receive that precious gift of an organ and the story starts again in another circle? How many people will get to think about how amazing organ donation can be then?
If it doesn’t happen, if there is no donor, none of the rest can happen. Not just the transplant, but the lifetime that follows, however long it can now become. And what, who, how many make up a lifetime?
It’s a bit like trying to count stars. An organ donation is not just for the recipient. It’s a gift that transforms many more lives than we can see.
Let’s go back to the donor, and the donor family who gives permission for a transplant to go ahead. The donor, in most cases, will be a deceased donor. But what of their family and friends.
“My son died, and nothing will take away the loss I feel. It wasn’t supposed to happen, he had a sudden brain bleed and there was nothing they could do to stop him dying. That grief is my company now, every day. But I also know that somewhere there are two people who are only able to be alive now, living their normal lives again, because of our decision to allow a transplant. We knew it was what he would have wanted. That helps me.
One of them wrote to us. That was good. I can’t bring myself to write back, yet. I suppose that helps me understand how hard it can be for the recipient to write to me. They have almost no information about their organ donor so it’s not easy, I know. But I’m so grateful for the card I got. It makes a difference. I want to write back. I will, soon. Sometimes, some people even choose to meet up, recipients and donor families. I’m not sure. Maybe.
I saw a report on the local news about the Transplant Games when it was in my town a few years ago. Very short report, but great to see. I saw all those people there who’d had all kinds of transplants and wondered, maybe the two people my son helped to save were there too. Maybe they were even winning medals. That made me feel proud. I am very proud to be part of saving a life. Proud of my son. Knowing that someone, somewhere, is grateful to him every day.
One of the groups that was there at the Games was the Donor Family Network that supports donor families and helps raise awareness of organ donation. I might get in touch with them. I didn’t feel ready before but, well, maybe soon.”
Thank you, donors, and donor families, wherever you are and whoever you are. You gave so much more than an organ. You gave new life. And those new lives are lived with other people. Every one of them, every one of us, grateful for your gift and kindness. You have every reason to be proud, proud of your loved ones, and proud of your joint decisions and the new lives you have made possible. Thank you.