Organ donation: Giving the Gift of Life

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Organ donation

“Behind every organ donation is a story,” Lisa Harmon, organ donation committee chair at EAMC says. “If you had the chance to improve someone’s quality of life, or save lives, even after your own has ended, wouldn’t you want to do that?”

Every April, EAMC holds a ceremony to share stories of those in the community who have personally benefitted from organ donation and to inspire others to become donors.

Last year, Harmon, a senior nurse manager at EAMC, was committee chair for the first time, and it was a memorable year for organ donation in the community. The story of Davis Boswell and John Clarke Perry made local and national news after their families met at last year’s Donate Life ceremony.

On the morning of last year’s ceremony, Jonathan and Holley Perry, from Monroe, La., were in town to meet Tucker and Amanda Boswell, and their son, Davis, for the first time. Davis Boswell was born in 2015 at EAMC and suffered from a life-threatening heart condition.

“He was placed on the transplant list and we struggled with that,” Amanda Boswell remembered while addressing the crowd at last year’s ceremony. “It’s a hard place to be put in, to know in order for your baby to live, another baby has to die. We had been so close to losing Davis so many times that we could not fathom it actually happening, knowing what a family was going through before they had to make that decision.”

In Louisiana, the Perrys were facing their own devastating circumstances. Their 6-month-old son, John Clarke, was diagnosed with a brain bleed and he would succumb to it on Nov. 30, 2015. The family chose to donate John Clarke’s organs, and Holley Perry was determined to find a child who could benefit from her son’s heart.

After 115 days of waiting, Davis received John Clarke’s heart. On Jan. 8, 2016, after spending his entire life in the hospital, he was discharged from Children’s Hospital in Birmingham.

“Both families shared with me that they knew they wanted to meet one day, but they weren’t sure how to go about it,” Harmon says, reflecting on last year’s ceremony. “So many things fell perfectly into place for the families to meet last year, and I believe it was with divine intervention that everything happened the way that it did.”

 “I just ask that, if you’re thinking about organ donation, don’t fall into the trap of ‘why did my son or loved one, why did they have to pass away to save this other person’s life?’” Jonathan Perry urged as he spoke at the 2016 ceremony.

“Many of us would have never met the Boswells without these circumstances. Holley and I are social people—we want to meet everyone, especially the one who our son helped save their life. It’s the really bright light of a really dark situation. It’s hard on one side, but it’s a really great God blessing on the other side.”

“When we began planning last year’s Donate Life ceremony, I could never have imagined that last year’s event would have had the lasting and profound impact that it has had,” Harmon says.

“Because of the exposure that the Boswell’s and Perry’s story gained, many people signed up to be organ donors. ESPN produced a video that played during pre-game at last year’s Auburn-LSU game on September 24, and the same day, more than 14,000 people registered to become organ donors.”

Becoming an organ donor is a simple process. You may already have stated that you wanted to be an organ donor when you received your Alabama driver’s license. You can also register to be a donor at www.registerme.org.

Harmon notes that there are a few common misconceptions surrounding organ donation.

“Some people think that donation of organs and tissue would preclude normal funeral arrangements,” Harmon says. “It does not. You can help countless others and still have traditional funeral viewing.  Donation does not cost any money, just love.  Hospital costs stop at the time of death, and only resume once the deceased is released to the funeral home.

“Others tend to think that medical workers will not try to save your life if you are an organ donor, and nothing could be further from the truth. Physicians and nurses do absolutely everything possible to save your life—it is only when these efforts fail that organ donation is discussed.”

Harmon explains that while registering to be an organ donor is the most important way to make your decision known, it is equally important to share your wishes with your family.

“Even if your name is on national registry, in the event that you die, your family will be asked to support your donation decision and assist in a review of your medical information,” Harmon says. “It is so important that you discuss your wishes with your family; let them know that you are giving them the gift of having made the decision for yourself, all they have to do is support that decision should the time come.”

Harmon emphasizes that it is so important to put a face to each statistic. “According to Donate Life America, today 119,000 men, women and children await lifesaving organ transplants. Our hope is to put a face and a story to that number. Every person on that list is someone’s family.”

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Alabama Advance Directive Q & A

(from www.alaha.org – The Alabama Hospital Association)

Q: Who can set up an advance directive?

A: You must be at least 19 years old to set up an advance directive. You must be able to think clearly and make decisions for yourself when you set it up.

Q: Do I need a lawyer to set up an advance directive?

A: You do not need a lawyer to set one up, but you may want to talk with a lawyer before you take this important step.

Q: What types of advance directives are available in Alabama?

A: In Alabama you can set up an Advance Directive for health care. The choices you have include a living will, a proxy and/or a durable power of attorney for health care.

Q: What is a living will?

A: A living will is used to write down ahead of time what kind of care you do or do not want if you are too sick to speak for yourself.

Q: What is a proxy?

A: A proxy can be part of a living will. You can pick a proxy to speak for you and make the choices you would make if you could. If you pick a proxy, you should talk to that person ahead of time. Be sure that your proxy knows how you feel about different kinds of medical treatments.

Q: What is a durable power of attorney for health care?

A: Another way to pick a proxy is to sign a durable power of attorney for health care. The person you pick does not need to be a lawyer.

Q: Where can I get an advance directive form?

A: Hospitals, home health agencies, hospices and nursing homes usually have forms you can fill out if you want to set up a living will, pick a proxy or set up a durable power of attorney for health care. If you have questions, you should ask your own lawyer or call your local Council on Aging for help.

Q: What do I need to decide?

A: You will need to decide if you want treatments or machines that will make you live longer even if you will never get better. An example of this is a machine that breathes for you.

Q: I completed an advance directive, now what?

A: Be sure and sign your name and write the date on any form or paper you fill out. Talk to your family and doctor now so they will know and understand your choices. Give them a copy of what you have signed. If you go to the hospital, give a copy of your advance directive to the person who admits you to the hospital.

Q: How do I know my wishes will be carried out?

A: The law says doctors, hospitals and nursing homes must do what you want or send you to another place that will. Before you set up an advance directive, talk to your doctor ahead of time. Find out if your doctor is willing to go along with your wishes. If your doctor does not feel he or she can carry out your wishes, you can ask to go to another doctor, hospital or nursing home. Once you decide on the care you want or do not want, talk to your family. Explain why you want the care you have decided on. Find out if they are willing to let your wishes be carried out. Family members do not always want to go along with an advance directive. This often happens when family members do not know about a patient’s wishes ahead of time or if they are not sure about what has been decided. Talking with your family ahead of time can prevent this problem.

Q: What if I change my mind?

A: As long as you can speak for yourself, you can change your mind any time about what you have written down. If you make changes, tear up your old papers and give copies of any new forms or changes to everyone who needs to know.

We all know that someday our lives will end – we just don’t want to think about it. However, by facing the inevitable and making some plans when you are well, you can prevent your family from having to make difficult choices should you be unable to communicate your wishes. It is very important to share with your family not only your wishes to become an organ donor, but also your wishes regarding your medical care if you are no longer able to make decision for yourself.