Six years ago I was you, your spouse, your mother, your grandma, your sister, your friend. I was working full time at our local high school, snorkeling in the summer and skiing in the winter, enjoying life with my husband, with three married children and seven grandchildren. Suddenly I suffered severe and irreversible liver failure. I slipped into a coma and, on Thanksgiving Day 1996, my family was told that unless I received a transplant in the next 48 hours, I would die.
While my family prayed that a donated liver would become available, another family, from Amarillo, Texas, prayed for their 37-year-old son, a husband and a father of three young children who lay critically ill with brain injuries, after a tragic motorcycle accident. Three surgical procedures later, they were told the sad news that he would not survive. On this most difficult day of their lives, they made a courageous decision to give the gift of life to others, including me. I am so blessed and remember this family every day in my prayers. And he helped many others as well: his heart, lungs, pancreas and two kidneys were donated; his skin went to a fireman in a burn center, bone and tissue to a cancer victim, and corneas helped a blind person see again. What a remarkable legacy!
The night that the UCLA team brought my liver back from Amarillo a freak snowstorm closed the airport. Surgery was delayed and the liver sustained damage from the cold. Three days later, much to everyone's relief, it decided to work, and has been chugging away ever since. It has been both a privilege and an obligation to devote my time to working with transplant patients and to increasing organ donation so that others might live. They too deserve the chance for another hug, another smile, another birthday.
I experienced great joy when after five years I met my donor's family, his mother, his brother and his now 16-year-old son. I had to ask them, “Why did you decide to donate?” His mother smiled through the tears and said, “Wade was what we Texans call a good old boy. He loved his family and he loved to hunt and fish. If you had a flat tire, he would be there to fix it. If you were sick and needed your grass cut or your house painted, he was there to help. Wade was a friend to all. He lived his life as a good samaritan—why would he do any the less in death?”
Today over 89,000 people await a life-saving organ transplant. Over 40 percent of those people will die before receiving their gift of life. I believe that Americans are a compassionate people who help each other in time of need. For years I had carried the donor dot on my drivers license knowing that if the worst should happen I could save others. I never expected that I would be a recipient. Simply put, if you had something that you no longer needed, would you give it to another, freely, to save their life? As you leave this world and your soul, your spirit, goes to be with your maker, please pass life on to those who wait.