Gardendale Mayor Stan Hogeland delivered a proclamation at the city council meeting on Monday night declaring April 2016 as “Donate Life” month. The proclamation, presented to the Alabama Organ Center, honors those who have donated organs and tissue and encourages residents to consider donating their organs and making that decision known to those closest to them.
There are currently approximately 123,000 people waiting for organs in this country at this time. An average of 22 people die each day while waiting on organs that never come. But those are just numbers, statistics that are easy to ignore. Except that, on April 5, 2002, my dad was one of the 22 people who died waiting on an organ transplant.
He wasn’t just a number. He was a husband to a woman who loved him most of her life and father to two kids who still needed him desperately. He was always that dad — the one who coached us and pushed us and, often, embarrassed us by always being there. He loved Alabama football and Broadway with equal passion. He was a devoted teacher and assistant principal who loved the kids he taught and truly wanted to make a difference in their lives.
He laughingly called me “Madame Prosecutor” in reference to my hard headed streak and my love of arguing.
He also had a disease called primary sclerosing cholangitis that caused his liver to fail. He was added to the organ transplant waiting list in late 2001. He died on the list, waiting for a liver that never came.
The last year he was alive, I was a freshman at Alabama and had to go back to campus for the day to take a final. He rode with me and waited while I took my test. We hit my favorite near-campus lunch spot and he got to soak in some of the campus life at the university he loved. He was already sick but he managed to keep himself going. It was a rare day for us, because, as much as we loved each other, having a teenage daughter wasn’t easy on him and being a teenager wasn’t easy on me. I was independent and he wanted me to stay a little girl. Nothing bad, just normal teenager/parent issues.
Waiting for a transplant is the single most dehumanizing experience of my life. You have to not only make your peace with the fact that someone else’s loved one will die so yours can live, but you have to actively HOPE for their death to save the person you love. You have to wish unimaginable pain on someone else to spare yourself the exact same fate.
During his last weeks, there was a multi-car accident that claimed five or six lives in the Birmingham area. Most people would have been horrified, but all I could think was “Are they organ donors? I wonder what blood type they are?”
I know I should be ashamed of that, and looking back, I understand how warped it was, but that’s where you live when you are sleeping in the waiting room, watching one of the most important people in your world slowly slip away. You get hard, cold, desperate.
I don’t know how I would have handled life if my dad had been saved by the death of someone else. I never had to face it, but I’m sad to say I probably wouldn’t have worried too much about that other family.
The day is quickly approaching that I will have been without my dad for as long as I had him — in five short years, he will have been gone half my life. But, since he died, more than 100,000 other fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, children, aunts, uncles and friends have died the same way. Please, if you haven’t already, consider donating your organs. Then, tell your family and friends about your decision and make sure they understand what you want. You can save numerous lives and it doesn’t cost you a thing.
I don’t often get so personal in my columns, but this is an issue that is dear to my heart. I encourage you to do your research and give it serious consideration, and I thank Mayor Hogeland for giving it a pubic platform.
For more information on organ donation, visit alabamaorgancenter.org to register or download a form or call toll free at 1-800-252-3677.