For the month of April, PCHA will be focusing on the theme of National Donate Life Month. In the second post of our series, Jennifer Weiner, an adult CHD patient, shares why she feels passionately about organ donation and how to sign up as a donor.
A while back, I got a letter from Jesse White, Illinois’ Secretary of State. It’s not like we’re pen pals, but when I renewed my driver’s license the state sent a friendly thank-you for preserving my organ donor status. Back in 2006, I signed up on the First Person Consent Registry, and I love getting that letter every four years. I love showing it to my family, saying, “Go to this web site and sign up” (Go to this website and sign up http://www.lifegoeson.com/)! I love the reminder that I made an active, conscious decision to help someone else.
To me, signing up on the registry, promising a part of ourselves to a stranger, is one of the most amazing yet simplest ways of tying us all together. This ad, which caught my attention back in 2007, has stuck with me 10 years later and demonstrates that idea perfectly.
I remember when I turned 16, the First Person Consent list didn’t exist. I, no doubt about it, signed the back of that very first driver’s license. Even then, organ donation was something I felt strongly about. I wanted to make sure everyone knew my wishes; I insisted my friends and family follow through with donation under any circumstances.
When the registry came out, I read all the details and signed online immediately. The website explains that your status on the list isn’t available until after you pass, you can change your mind, and it’s legally binding, so even if your family disagrees with your decision, your wishes will be honored.
I’m sure by now you’re wondering if Jesse White’s letter asks for marketing help, but I swear it didn’t. By my best estimation, this all started with me in 8th grade. My sister and I were prayer partners with Paige´ Wilsek – we went to Catholic School. I will never forget it. She was in third grade and suffering from cancer, which started as Leukemia and spread to her bones. Our church held a donor search to find a bone marrow match for her. The chances of finding one were pretty slim, because of her rare blood type. They never found a match. Paige´ died before she finished 4th grade. I remember how hard it was to go to her wake and funeral. I couldn’t stop thinking about all the things she would never get to do, the life she should have had. Her mother wound up comforting me instead of the other way around.
Typically, you’d think of an organ donation as a whole heart or a kidney, but, in reality, even one vital healthy piece can save someone’s life, like the bone marrow Paige´ never got. It stuck with me then, and hit closer to home when I was 17 and received a donation of my own.
In 1999, I received a pulmonary valve and conduit homograft. At first, I thought of it as some disembodied pulmonary artery sitting in a freezer somewhere. It wasn’t until someone asked me whether or not I was going to send a thank you letter to the family that it hit me. I was alive and healthy thanks to someone else’s final gift. I never did send a thank you, and still feel a bit guilty about that. Perhaps the best way to say thank you, though, is to pay it forward. I want to give whatever I can in the end, in hopes that it will give someone else a second chance.
So for all of you that haven’t signed the First Person Consent Registry to become an organ donor, go to http://www.lifegoeson.com/ and sign up.
*Please note each State has its own policy/procedure for organ donation registration. Learn more about organ donation and the policy in your State, or to register and learn more about various types of donation, please check out Donate Life.
Jennifer is a graduate of DePaul University, with a degree in Elementary Education and an MA in English and Creative Writing from SNHU. She is a 35 year old adult congenital heart patient, born with Truncus Arteriosus, has had two repair surgeries, and is an ICD recipient. Jennifer volunteers for the Pediatric Congenital Heart Association, both nationally and locally, managing the PCHA Blog and IL Chapter Communications. She also serves on the steering committee of Chicagoland Cardiac Connections, an organization that provides support and resources for patients with cardiac devices, based out of Lurie Children’s Chicago.