Nearly 1,500 Hoosiers, over 4,200 people in Illinois and more than 115,000 people nationwide are waiting for potential life-saving heart, liver, kidney, lung, pancreas or small bowel transplants, according to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network.
In honor of Donate Life in Indiana, families touched by organ donation shared their stories of kindness during a remembrance service at Franciscan Health Munster on April 20, 2018. Stojan Trajkovski, manager of imaging at Franciscan Health Munster, shared his family's experience. Below is a selection from his remarks.
My oldest son, Nicholas, was born Oct. 18, 2004, at 32 weeks and was what we call intrauterine growth retarded. For some unknown reason around 20 weeks he started to fall out of his growth window. Then his umbilical pressures started to go up and Kristina's placental volume started to decrease. Dr. Gold sent us to Rush, and within 24 hours we had a beautiful baby boy who was completely healthy but weighed in at 2lbs. 4oz.
(One morning) I went to change his diaper and get him ready to eat, but when I opened the isolate, Nicholas’ stomach was distended, and when I opened his diaper there was blood in his stool. The next thing you know Nicholas was on a helicopter back to Rush. By the time we arrived, he was in surgery, and they came out to tell us that he had necrotizing enterocolitis where portions of his bowels were dying and he might not make it out of surgery. He made it, but just barely.
The next week was not good, but by the time it was all said and done by the grace of God things settled down and he was still alive. So, the only problem was now he only had 29 centimeters of small intestine and his rectum. All his other intestines were destroyed by the infection. What does this mean? Well, it means he doesn't have enough small intestine, large intestine, any of that to absorb enough nutrition to carry on normal life.
Now we have to look at a central line, TPN, all of that type of things in order for him to absorb enough nutrients for him to basically live. All this comes with its own set of risks. Unfortunately, by the summertime he had cirrhosis. Now we have to start talking about organ transplant.
We go about our lives as "normal" as we can and then one night the pager from Riley goes off.
They had a donor from Tennessee, and we started heading down to Indy … I was terrified obviously, and my dad stops me in the hallway, and he says, "Why are you crying?" And I said, "What if this transplant doesn't work and I lose him?" And his response was typical of my dad, the beacon of truth. He said that this transplant was the only hope I had of keeping him. The keyword there being "hope," because that's what organ transplant gives us. It's not promised but it gives us the hope.
The surgery took 14 hours and Nicholas received a liver, stomach, small and large intestines and a pancreas. All of Nicholas' organs had been compromised to some extent from the cirrhosis.
This is when what I call "recipient guilt," hit me. I felt very selfish being happy that my son was getting this amazing gift because some poor family was living through what I tried to avoid. I cannot tell you how heavily that weighed on my mind and in the months after.
(My friends) kept telling me that, "I should appreciate the fact that some wonderful family could look past their own devastation and try and help mine."
They were right. The selfless act of organ donation should not go unrecognized. The bold individuals and their families should be recognized for being able to temporarily put their feelings aside and help complete strangers in their most desperate times. Even though Nicholas is not with us anymore, I'm still thankful for the gift that was given to us. It gave us hope in a time of despair. It proved to us that people are very generous and kind and in the end, it showed me that God lives in all of us at every point in our lives.
To learn how to register as an organ donor, visit GiftofHope.org.