This morning we get the word that Sarah Murnaghan, the 10 year old who has been in the press lately, is getting her lung transplant. While this is good news for Sarah, I always remember that someone died in order for such a transplant and my thoughts are with that family also. This situation reminds me of an eerie incident that occurred a few years back at, of all places, the grocery store. It was profound and not something I shall ever forget. Today is the first time I’ve publicly discussed it. It’s as good a day as any.
I was at the checkout counter at Trader Joe’s grocery store and paid with my debit card. The chatty cashier asked for my driver’s license as identification and then said “thank you for donating.” I was perplexed. “Huh”? I asked. He repeated himself: “Thank you for donating, for being an organ donor.” I had never even realized that yup, there it is. A pink dot on my California driver’s license that quite simply says “donor.” It shook me up a bit and I responded “well, hopefully not anytime soon.” He said “it’s the most unselfish gift you will ever give.” Still shaken, I nodded and off I went. No one before or since has ever commented on this pink dot or the fact that I am registered as an organ donor.
I’m in my car driving home. I’m a careful driver. Uber cautious I’ve been told. I’m always on the lookout for the “other guy.” I check my mirrors, side, other side, rear view, repeat. It’s served me well. I’ve gotten out of many possible accidents by practicing defensive driving. My father taught me this. Even if you are the best driver in the world, you have to look out for the idiots. Always have an “out” planned in your head. I do. I always do. I know where every car is and have some sort of escape plan in the event I have to make a quick move. This day was the one time I did not have that opt out plan. I am driving home practicing defensive tactics yet still unnerved and distracted by the cashier’s unusual comments. Near my home there is a ICE office. Ever since the murder of Border patrol agent Robert Rojas near the San Diego/Mexican border I’ve made it a practice to look up at the flags and say a quick prayer for him. This day was no exception.
In the nano second that it took to look at the flags and quickly look back at my driver’s side mirror I was in mortal danger. A female driver was veering quickly from the left lane into my lane near the curb and her car was headed straight for mine. No time to otherwise evade, I instinctively drove up the curb onto the sidewalk and braked in the middle of the bushes. Luckily there was no one on the sidewalk because I had broken my “always” rule. Luck or God or both were abundantly on my side that day. She wound up bouncing off the curb, back to the center of the road and was off on her ( I think, very drunken) way. Had I not driven onto the sidewalk, she surely would have smashed into my driver’s side door at about 50 miles per hour. I shudder to think what may have happened. I got off that curb, turned a corner, parked and sobbed. I thought then and still maintain that I cheated death that day. No, the cashier’s comments did not help the situation (and certainly distracted me), but my instinctive driving skills are what may have saved my life. Since then when I want to pay respects to the fallen I pull into the border patrol parking lot, park and say my prayer. Live and learn. Key word is live.
I did live but I well could have perished that day. Had I died it would have been tragic. Too young. Another innocent person taken by a drunk (at least reckless) driver. But, my organs would likely have been donated. Part of me would have lived on and saved or prolonged another life. Perhaps several lives. The thought comforts me. Since the news of Sarah Murnaghan broke I’ve been advocating one thing. Please consider being an organ donor. Similar to writing one’s will, it’s not a pleasant proposition; facing our own mortality. But we are mere mortals. Once done, I had pretty much forgotten about it (but for the oddly timed “thank you” from the cashier). We want to take government out of our health care, out of our lives. We have to start somewhere and it’s not by petitioning the head of HHRS. There are so many things that appear to be out of our hands lately but this we can do. Here we can make a difference. Again, I repeat an oft used phrase of mine; walk the talk. At the very least, have the talk.
What is really at the heart of the matter is a severe shortage of organ donors. Unsavory though it may sound it is a supply and demand problem. According to one source “The demand for organs in the United States far outpaces the supply. There are currently 75,650 active candidates (meaning they are medically suitable for a transplant) waiting for organs in the United States. But 18 people die every day, on average, waiting for an organ transplant. In 2012, there were only about 14,000 organ donors (deceased and live donations). Organ donations from deceased donors resulted in the procurement of 28,600 organs that led to 24,560 transplants.”
I realize that sometimes religion, family preferences, ethics, or simply the unpleasant aspect of the conversation all factor into this shortage. It is not my intent to talk you into something you feel strongly against. Rather, it’s my desire to urge you to have a chat with yourself, with God, with whomever. Until we have this discussion and take action this problem will continue. I urge you to strongly consider becoming an organ donor and register yourself as such. Ensure that your status is known. Depending on your state, it may be noted on your driver’s license. If not, you may wish to wear a bracelet, have a card in your wallet and, very importantly, it must be in your living will. Additionally you must ensure that your D.N.R. is written in a manner that does not conflict with your organ donor status. Without getting too far into the weeds, it is often necessary to keep the donor on life support in order to preserve the organs. Finally, your designated durable power of medial attorney must be on board. The legalities can be complex but, even after registering as a donor, your family can stop the process. I’ll leave it up to you to do your research on this. Suffice to say, there can be glitches and people can change your decision. Make sure this does not happen. The life you save may be that of a 10 year old child like Sarah. The lives you save will be as the cashier said “the most unselfish gift you ever give.” Because each state handles the registration of organ donations differently I urge you to search “how to become an organ donor.” Or, ask your physician or attorney for assistance. I am ever so grateful that I did not die on the road that day but I know that if I had, my husband would be comforted in the knowledge that my heart or lungs or eyes or possibly all, found new life in a needy, perhaps dying individual. I know this to be true because I’ve ensured that it is. It started with a conversation and I walked the talk.
Finally, cashiers: shut up. Thank me for my business, not my organ donation status. It’s a personal matter. Not something I wish to be thanked for or even reminded of. I was distracted that day. I am grateful to my father and to God that I still managed to get out of the situation and lived to tell the tale. Thank you for your time. Thank you for your prayers for Sarah and for whomever died to give her the (hopeful) gift of life. Most of all, thank you for having the conversation, for walking the talk and, thank you for your donation.