I’m Not Gonna Need ‘Em when I’m Dead
First Friday in First Person. At the age of 16, my brother made a simple but profound decision that all too soon came to affect a vast circle of people in ways they could not have imagined. I will never forget his excitement as he reached into his wallet to pull out his brand new driver’s license. He was so proud, taking the time to walk me through each element as if I’d never seen one before. He was like that; charismatic, easy-going with an infectious sense of humor. He pointed to the big heart indicating that he was an organ donor. “You’re an organ donor?” I interrogated. “Yeah…I’m not gonna need ’em when I’m dead,” he replied in a matter-of-fact kind of manner. Such a simple phrase to encompass a basic concept. Yet the implications, the influence, the ultimate impact was in no way simple or basic. Needless-to-say, I never forgot those words. Little did I know, just five short years later, they would serve as the catalyst for my brother’s incredible legacy.
Trauma happens. Just before dawn, we reached the hospital where my brother had been admitted. He was in an ICU hooked up to a ventilator with only a minister and nurse by his side. It was so hard to see his muscular body lie there, nearly still, save the work of the breathing machine. I could not understand why they had not operated. Immediately, I began making demands; requesting the admitting physician from the ER. Instead, they brought me the chief resident. From him, I requested to read the admitting doctor’s notes. I needed to know everything that happened until the moment we arrived. Ultimately, as they realized I was someone with knowledge of teaching hospitals and its hierarchy, the attending physician on duty came with the films to explain the grave prognosis. And there it was plainly. My once vibrant, healthy, athletic brother lay dying with a bullet lodged in his brain. It was put there, the Virginia courts would later rule, by someone incapable of understanding the consequences of his actions.
Acceptance and Farewell. In retrospect, I realize that he lay there brain dead waiting for us to arrive, so we could say goodbye. The minister and hospice nurse, as we later discovered, were there to request and I suppose, if necessary, help to pursued us to donate my brother’s organs. Little did they know, he had already done all the hard work for them. Once they made the request, I immediately remembered the conversation. I knew without a doubt, it was what he had wanted. He had been an athlete all his life. He was so healthy until…but trauma is like that…robbing the young and the healthy. The hospital was good about giving us the time we needed. We prayed. We consulted other family members (about half of my extended family is in the medical profession). I demanded charts and the attending physician. We prayed some more, all the while the nurse and the minister never left our side. We listened to the LifeNet consultant. We gave the consent. We prayed still more.
April is National Donate Life Month. So in this first person feature, I wanted to highlight my beloved younger brother. He is the one who taught me the significance of organ donation. The legacy he created through the lives he directly saved and the broader circle of lives he has transformed has surely helped me to cope with his tragic death. And, it is the reason why organ and tissue donation is an issue for which I passionately advocate.
Have you made the decision to donate your organs? Has someone you love donated or received an organ? Leave a comment and share your story so that we might recognize these heroes during National Donate Life Month.