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. (That's enough to fill Lucas Oil Stadium almost twice!) Each day 22 people (on average) in the nation die because a donated organ wasn't available in time.
In honor of Donate Life Month, families touched by organ donation shared their stories of kindness during a remembrance service at Franciscan Health Munster on April 20. Sister Marlene Shapley, Vice President of Mission Integration for Franciscan Health's northwest Indiana hospitals, shared her family's experience. Below is a selection from her remarks.
December 20, 2015, was the worst of days, and it was the best of days. It was the Sunday before Christmas. The house was cleaned. The tree was decorated. We were having the Bishop and our young sisters over for pizza on Monday night, so I was making hot sausage dip and my favorite sugar cookies.
My cell phone rang, and Donald's number came up. It was my sister-in-law, Paula. She said Donald had collapsed at home, and she had called 911.
We arrived at the hospital in Crown Point. Donald was awake, alert and joking. He looked fine. The young doctor said that he wasn't sure what was going on but they would probably keep him overnight. I remember saying, looking at this doctor saying, "Two of our brothers had aneurisms," and this started everything.
A portable chest X-ray was done, and then he was sent for a CT scan. This began the worst of days. Donald dissected while he was in the CT scan. He was still awake and talking. I asked him if he wanted to be anointed, and he said yes. Donald was not a churchgoer. He called Father Tony. He came, and he gave him the sacrament of the sick and general absolution. The doctor told Donald that his condition was very grave and asked Donald what he wanted done. Donald said he wanted to live.
His breathing became very labored, and he was intubated. They wheeled him off to surgery. We told him we loved him and that we would see him soon.
Many phone calls were made to family and friends. We asked for prayers and said many of them ourselves. After about an hour, I looked up when the surgeon was coming out. I remember saying, "This is not good." It wasn't. Donald had died before they even opened him.
As we sat trying to grasp what happened, the VP of nursing came out and said that he was an organ donor. I said I would make the ask, so I asked Paula and the children what they wanted…Paula said yes, they could use anything, because that's what Donald wanted.
That made this the best of days. Donald's last act of kindness to give of himself to help someone else. Perhaps his cornea could be used to help someone see better, his skin to be helped a burn patient recover from through grafting, and his bone to help repair a long bone injury.
At all our Franciscan hospitals, we play "Brahams' Lullaby" when a baby's born. This started many years ago when one of our night nurses said, "The only thing we hear at night is a code blue, which means someone's dying. Can't we hear something to celebrate life?"
But in Crown Point, we also play "Amazing Grace" when we have an organ donor. Now every time I hear that played, I think of my brother, Donald, and thank him for his last act of kindness and generosity, of giving of himself to help someone else. I truly believe that anybody that's willing to be an organ donor gives selflessly of themselves to help others.
To learn how to register as an organ donor, visit GiftofHope.org.