When I was in my final semester of college, I took a class called “Psychology of Death and Dying.” At that time, I took it because it was an easy class and I needed an elective credit. My degree is in Materials Science & Engineering, and to me any Psychology class was a welcome breather. The discussions ranges from death, to suicide, to organ donation and many other topics. The class was easy, but it was always very thought provoking. Unfortunately, it has also been a class I’ve had to use the information from. In November 2016, I received a call that my dad had a stroke. This was only two weeks after he turned 51 and he was in-shape and healthy. To say this came as a shock would be an understatement. I also had a gut instinct from the moment I was called that he would die. Of course, that sounds morbid, but it’s what went through my mind. Call it intuition, call it God, call it what you will but I knew. The people on the other line told me he was doing well and should become conscious shortly. Within 24 hours the diagnosis went from “full recovery,” to “he will not survive this.” All of this, I should mention is when I live thousands of miles away. I was able to get there as soon as I could, knowing at that time he would not make it.
I remember arriving to the hospital, and walking into his room in the ICU and being awestruck with how calm and peaceful he looked. He looked like he was sleeping on our couch, just with some tubes in his mouth. Sometime within my first visit the neurologist gathered the close family in a conference room to talk about the “options.”
The Organ Donation “Talk” with the Doctor
I have never been so grateful that I took a psychology class on a whim. So many of the terms said by the neurosurgeon were exactly what we had discussed in my class. While my family members looked overwhelmed (understandable), I actually felt I had a good grasp of what was happening. That didn’t make the situation easy, but it did make the decision easy. My dad had almost no brain stem activity, but he was doing the basic functions of breathing etc on his own. He was the perfect organ donor candidate. That is how the neurologist put it, and thankfully, my family all listened. My mom and I knew that my dad absolutely would’ve wanted everything donated. He would’ve been happiest if he could donate his organs to others, and the remaining body to a university to study. He literally told us throughout my life that he wanted his body “donated to science.” We didn’t know how some of the other extended family would react, but thankfully, they were glad his body could help others too. So in a relatively short time, my mom had signed that he could donate. We were just waiting for a couple of other family members to arrive to say goodbye.
After Organ Donation Was Set Up
Something I didn’t know before was that with this organ donation company, from the moment the paperwork is signed, that company covers all medical costs. I do not know if all organ donations are like this, but it was a nice relief for my mom as well (her insurance ended up covering almost anything regardless, but at the time it was unknown). Unfortunately, my dad ended up having a massive stroke while unconscious, and became a less suitable candidate for donation. Instead of “everything” his viable organs would be he corneas (eyes), heart valves, and skin/tissue. That was hard to hear at the time. It went from thinking of several people my dad would save to only a couple. The organ donation worker assured us it was still life-changing for those people, and that the heart valves would be going to a baby. This brought some relief.
I’ll save the details beyond this to keep this post from becoming a novel itself, but he died on November 11th. I stayed in Alaska through Thanksgiving, and sometime during this time we were notified that his corneas and heart valves were used, and his skin/tissue was used as well. We returned home for Christmas, and by then my mom had received a more detailed letter about one of the donations. His corneas had given a man the gift of sight again. A 70 year old man. I’m going to be very blunt here and say that I was not very happy about that organ recipient. A man who was almost twenty years older got my dad’s eyes. Yes, he might live twenty more years, but I had really hoped they would go to someone younger than my dad. It was a sharp reminder that my dad died fairly young for a healthy man and that he will miss out on so much.
Seven Months Later
I took a trip home in July 2017 (I’m actually here writing this), and recently a couple of recognition things for my dad happened. The hospital has asked for my dad’s name to be engraved on a wall of donors, and a medal was given to us by the organ donation company. It’s a beautiful bronze medal that my mom has displayed and reads “Gift of Life Donor Organ Eye Tissue Donation.” I’m glad she gets to have this beautiful reminder because it does make things seem better knowing his body helped others.
I’ll forever be grateful to that psychology class for helping me be informed at a time where it was key. I’m still grieving over the loss of my dad, but I’m (mostly) happy that he was able to help others. I plan to be in organ donation and tissue donation if that is an option for me when my time comes. I think everyone should look into knowing some basics about death and dying so they have some informed consent in case the worst does happen. Organ donation is a beautiful way to give life when life is lost, and I’m grateful that the process was as easy as could be for our family. For more information about organ donation in the United States click here. I sincerely hope no one reading this ever needs the information, but knowing made the process much easier.