9,232 people are waiting for an organ transplant in the state of Michigan alone.
Some will be lucky and get the organ they need to survive, but for too many of these people, they’ll be on the list for months or years, and some will die waiting.
When I was 17, doctors told my dad he needed a liver transplant. As the liver is a regenerative organ, many people can receive just a portion of a liver from a live donor. Unfortunately, my dad’s liver had already been damaged past that point and he needed an entirely new one.
The next 11 months were filled with hospital visit after hospital visit. My dad would get better for a few weeks and then suddenly get sick again. Fluids would build up in his liver, causing him to get confused and often violently ill.
Through everything, my dad stayed just as goofy as he had always been, making light of his condition as much as possible. He would crack jokes about the sterile gowns we had to wear to go into his hospital room and try to sneak his cell phone when the doctors weren’t looking. He spent a lot of time watching old Mystery Science Theatre episodes or movies like Tommy Boy, quoting them before they even got the words out. He never stopped being his dorky self, which made things easier on all of us.
In October 2007, doctors finally found a match. Several factors go into the matching process, including blood type, organ size, tissue type, and the severity of the potential recipient’s condition. My dad’s wait time was relatively short for most donors, but still far longer than anyone should have to wait for news about whether they’ll live or die. The doctors knew that the liver was from a heart attack victim and might not be a perfect match, but my dad desperately needed it so they transplanted it anyway.
The surgery went well. My dad got his liver. Although he seemed to be making progress, doctors soon found that the liver was not a strong enough match and my dad would need a second liver transplant. He was lucky and got a second liver just a few weeks later.
By Thanksgiving, it was clear that there was something wrong with the new liver. Although it’s common for a body to reject a new organ, my dad’s new liver was rejecting his body instead. The liver caused my dad to develop Graft-versus-Host disease, a condition that involves the transplanted organ attacking the body until the person suffers from total organ failure. My dad needed a new liver again, but the doctors knew that it was too late to get him another transplant.
On Dec. 27, 2007, my mom called from the hospital and told me my dad had passed away. I was in disbelief. To this day, I can’t believe that my dad won’t be there to see me graduate college, to walk me down the aisle or to meet my children.
I hear “Puff the Magic Dragon,” which he sang to me as a child, or the theme song to the Andy Griffith show, which we watched every Saturday morning, and I’ll lose it. Every time my grandpa or uncles talk in their deep, Minnesotan accents, I still hear him. I still tell all of his same old cheesy jokes. I still crave his famous Mickey Mouse pancakes when I wake up most mornings.
For too many people, this is the reality. Too many people are living in the memories left by a lost loved one who couldn’t get a life-saving organ before it was too late. Too many people are growing up without a parent or having to bury their children. Too many people are dying because there aren’t enough donors.
We can change this. People shouldn’t have to worry about dying while waiting for those organs anymore.
My dad was a registered organ donor for most of his life, even before he knew about his disease. Whenever anyone asked why he wanted to donate, he always responded with another question.
“Why not? I won’t be using them when I’m gone anyway,” he said.
Most major religions approve of organ donation. Organs from one donor can help save the lives of up to eight other people. Contrary to a popular myth, emergency medical professionals are just as likely to try to save a donor as they are to save a non-donor. Even people with some medical conditions are allowed to donate organs. There’s no excuse.
For information on the donor registry or nationwide organ transplant needs, visit OrganDonor.com. To sign up for the Michigan registry, visit their site giftoflifemichigan.org or donatelife.net. Students and faculty can also register by visiting Oakland University’s Gift of Life Campus Challenge page at giftoflifemichigan.org/showusyourheart?tag=oakland.
My dad taught me to have a strong work ethic. He taught me the importance of love and laughter. He even taught me to growl as a baby, just to catch the relatives off guard. Most importantly, though, he taught me to fight for what I believe in. I can never repay him for all of the amazing things he did for me, but I can help carry on his memory by fighting to end this donor shortage.
Be a hero. Save a life. Sign up to be an organ donor today.