This I Believe About Organ and Tissue Donation

Alyssa - milford, New Jersey
Entered on April 29, 2008
Age Group: 30 - 50

This I Believe About Donation

When I started a job screening tissue donors for the Musculoskeletal Transplant Foundation (MTF), I was told the tissue was a gift. Bones, tendons, and skin; all gifts from unselfish donors and their grieving family members who made decisions during a turbulent time. It’s hard to imagine. These donor family members have, only hours before, been told that their loved one has died, then receive a call asking them if they would like to donate these tissues. And many say, “yes”.

As a nurse for twelve years before working at MTF, I always did believe in organ donation. But I had no idea of the wonderful things that can be done with the other tissues. I learned that bone is made into grafts that take up the space where a diseased spinal disk has been removed, allowing for full mobility. Or sometimes the bone is left as a larger graft, allowing someone with a bone tumor to keep their leg. Tendons are used for those with soft tissue injuries. Besides the obvious burn grafts, skin is now being used for large abdominal surgeries to close a wound and aid healing. There are many other wonderful uses for these gifts.

During my nine plus years at MTF, I have done many things to promote my belief in organ and tissue donation. I served as the co-chair of a New Jersey coalition “Donate Life NJ”, aimed at registering donors and spreading the word. I wrote articles for magazines and newspapers. I rode 90 rollercoasters in two weeks to raise pledge money for the coalition. I attended many family donor recognition ceremonies. And I proudly wore my green ribbon pin wherever I went. I understood and promoted the benefits of increasing both organ and tissue donors, both in the state of New Jersey and nationally.

Nothing prepared me for the donation issue to hit me so close in my own life. On October 5, 2007, at age 53, my sister Karen lost her battle to depression. She and I had never discussed the issue of donation. In all my work to promote family discussions about donation, I realized I had never even discussed it with my own sister! I knew my father’s, husband and children’s wishes, but not my own sister. We both had our very busy lives and just never talked about it. Lucky for me, she had talked about it with the DMV, because there it was, across her photo driver’s license; “Organ Donor”. In the numbing hours after her death, the donation process was started. Karen was on her way to helping up to 50 people.

Make that 51. I have always said to people considering donation that it is a comfort to the family members. I really believe that now, without a doubt. The fact that her gift will help so many people comforts me deeper than I can even express. She will live on in many other people, changing and enhancing their lives.