Gonna get a little personal on you today.
Last week my older son Brian had a corneal transplant. Without it he would have gone blind, which would be a rather inconvenient condition to have given that his chosen profession is photography. You can see some of his work by clicking here.
He lives with a condition called keratoconus which you are welcome to click the link and find out more about, but basically means his corneas never formed properly. It occurs in around one out of every 2,000 people and is the leading cause of corneal transplant.
This was the third attempt to have the transplant, the first two aborted because of, first, a problem with anesthesia and second a problem with the viability of the cornea to be transplanted. With transplants the phrase “good enough” is never good enough. If it’s the least bit hinky the surgeon says no go.
As well she should.
Fortunately the third time was the charm. As he is a single gentleman his mother (Cruella) and I took care of him for the first few days of his recovery. That consisted mostly of keeping lights in the house low or off, making sure he took his anti-rejection medication and providing as much TLC as he would allow us to give. Once assured he was capable of going it on his own we returned him to his own house where he continues to recover.
From this experience I find myself up on the soapbox preaching the good word of organ donation and why you, yes you, should be taking the easy steps to participate in the process.
To see how, click the link below
In just the case of corneal transplants, in an average year there are over 50,000 of them in the US. That’s 50,000 people who don’t go blind. In addition the US sends another 20,000 overseas to help other countries and gives 26,000 to research facilities to further education and investigation into eye disease. That’s near 100,000. Problem is that the US averages nearly 3,000,0000 deaths per year. And when you consider that we all have two corneas that means only 50,000 people out of that 3,000,000 donated. Math nerds have already figured out that’s about 1.5%. The rest of us figured out that’s an absurdly low number.
By the way those numbers are from 2019, pre COVID.
Now yes, not everyone who dies can donate organs. Certain deadly diseases preclude donation and sometimes organs can not be harvested for one reason or another (use your imagination, you can figure that one out) But still the number is small compared to the need. There are currently 106,324 registered people on the organ waiting list, down one now that Brian has had his surgery. And while Brian would have “only” gone blind without the transplant, on average 17 people die each day waiting for a transplant.
As someone once said, we can do better.
Donating most organs occurs post mortem when you will have little to say over the matter. That’s why it’s so important to make your wishes known while still alive. I know it sounds obvious but in a time of what will no doubt be confusion, anguish, grief, and despair you don’t want to add to your family’s woes by forcing them to decide if your organs can be removed for transplant. As well there is a ticking clock when it comes to organ viability that unfortunately just adds more pressure to the situation.
Letting them know in advance is the best way to make sure your personal decision doesn’t become their heartbreaking call. It doesn’t take much to do that.
Most states in the US have an organ donor notation that can be added to your driver’s license. Sometimes it’s a red heart or, as is the case with California, the word “donor” stamped on your license. While a good start, personally I’m not counting on the Department of Motor Vehicles to consistently come through on that issue. They couldn’t manage to get me a set of license plates properly, I’m not trusting my heart, lungs, and/or eyeballs to them.
So I am registered with the National Donate Life Registry. This national registry assures that my wishes follow me no matter where I go in the US whether temporarily or permanent. It took all of 28 seconds to fill out the form at https://registerme.org/ It’s a simple thing that can save another family the anguish of losing a loved one. It is in fact the greatest gift you will ever give and it likely will go to someone you don’t know.
And because I know someone will say “but my religion forbids it” just know that all major religions consider organ donation to be a final act of love and generosity on the part of the dying person and their family. Check with your local religious leader, he or she will tell you that’s the case. Also, though I hate to have to say it, in these days of certain political parties perpetrating falsehoods about the medical profession, no doctor is going to allow you or your loved one to die because they want to get at those organs. The only time that happens is in a Michael Crichton suspense novel and if you think those are reality then I’d like to sell you a plane ticket to Jurassic Park. For other myth busting related to organ donation you can click here.
And now if you will permit me, I’d like to say something to the family of the person whose cornea will now live on in my son. I can not begin to imagine the pain you have gone through in the last few weeks. My fear at the thought of my son going blind is nothing in comparison to the reality of your loss. My heart goes out to you. But at the same time, thank you. Thank you for giving my son the ability to see. Thank you for giving him the chance to continue to make his art which is a large part of what makes his life have meaning. Thank you for your loved one’s courage in making the decision to become a donor. Thank you for everything. If your loved one was a believer in heaven then I know they’ve got the room with the jacuzzi.
We’ll go out with one of Brian’s favorite bands (yeah, I taught him well) asking the pertinent question.