In September of my sophomore year at Kansas State University, I told some friends that my dad had recently been added to a waiting list for a heart transplant. I didn’t know how long he might have to wait, assuming a match might ever become available. “It could be two weeks or two years,” I remember telling my friends. I badly overestimated, even at the short end. About two hours later, I got the call that my parents were on their way to Wichita — they had a matching donor.
My brother picked me up, and we continued on to the hospital for the most stressful night of my life. I sat in the waiting room, surrounded by family and friends. But everybody was mostly quiet while we waited for word on how the transplant went. It was morning by the time someone came to tell us the transplant had gone according to plan and Dad was recovering.
Since Sept. 18, 2003, Dad has seen his youngest child graduate high school and all three of his children receive college degrees and get jobs in their fields of study. He has seen two of his children and several nieces get married. He has held and played with his four grandchildren. Who knows what else he will get to see with his second chance. None of it would have been possible if a stranger hadn’t chosen to be an organ donor.
I was reminded of the upcoming 10th anniversary of Dad’s transplant when I saw an article about transplant recipients meeting the parents of their organ donor 14 years after that donor’s death. It didn’t take 14 years, but my family got to meet the family of Dad’s heart donor. I wish I could have gone, but it just wasn’t possible.
Stories like my dad’s and so many others’ are bittersweet. They wouldn’t be possible without tragedy. But that’s only one way to look at it. Organ donation can take a dark cloud and add a silver lining. It can’t diminish the loss of a loved one, but it can let them be somebody’s hero one last time.
Earlier this year, the Deseret News reported there were 730 people in Utah on transplant waiting lists — Kansas’ population is virtually the same, so if rates are similar, there should be about as many people waiting in Kansas. Another source says there are more than 84,000 people on transplant waiting lists in the U.S.
There will never be enough donors to meet the need, and there will always be people who die waiting for a transplant, largely because only a tiny fraction of deaths are eligible for organ donation. But that makes it all the more important that every good candidate consider being an organ donor.
Nobody wants to think about something happening to them, but people still buy life insurance to protect their families. Why not be a hero and save a life? I can’t tell anyone that they should be an organ donor — that’s up to them to decide. But I do encourage everyone to consider it.
— ADAM STEWART