April is National Donate Life Month. Here are my thoughts on being a donor. As it is written in Psalm 139: 14 (NIV):
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
The human body is amazing! And I thank God for being an image bearer. God created us to bear His image. Yet our earthly bodies have an expiration date. In Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth, specifically in II Corinthians 5:1 (KJV) it states:
For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
As a believer, when I die I am convinced that upon my death I will no longer have a need for a physical body. This earthly tabernacle will be useless and my soul will be immediately in the present of the Lord as written in II Corinthians 5: 8 (KJV):
8 We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.
Therefore, if someone else is able to use any of my body parts, I would rather give them to someone who is still physically alive that can use them than to have them buried or burned.
I am an organ, eye, and tissue donor. This may be a controversial subject. However, based on what I have studied in scriptures, once I die, I will be immediately in the presence of the Lord and will have a glorified spiritual body. Halleluiah!
On my driver’s license, the word donor is in red letters. I am certain that the red lettering makes it easier for first responders at an accident scene to see it on a person’s driver’s license.
According to the Iowa Donor Network’s (IDN) website, a suitable donor can save up to nine lives through organ donations, and save and heal more than 100 lives through tissue donations.
Isn’t that astounding!
My husband’s death has been the catalyst for me to document this information more clearly for my immediate family members, especially should my death occur suddenly. What’s more, the family members that I have named in my Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare Decisions (Medical Power of Attorney) and Living Will do not reside locally and may take hours to get to wherever my body would be.
To better understand the process of being a donor, I made an appointment to meet with Tony Hakes, Public Outreach Manager at the IDN main office located in North Liberty, Iowa. At the time of this meeting in 2014, Tony and his team maintained the information on the website and are responsible for registrations, donor questions, and statistical data. Tony informed me that once you register, whether online or through the renewal of your driver’s license, it registers you for organ, tissue and eye donations.
I told Tony during our meeting that I was concerned about how donating my organs would affect the directives of my Living Will because I did not want to be on life support. And based on the information that I had read on their website, organs, if medically eligible for donating, would require blood and oxygen flowing to them until recovered.
Tony responded, “Gloria, at the time of death it must be determined by a physician that the patient is brain dead. Brain death is when the brain has permanently stopped functioning and there is no chance of recovery. Brain death is not a coma! The patient is dead. So being hooked up to a machine to keep blood and oxygen flowing to maintain organs is not keeping the person alive. We are only using the machine to keep the blood and oxygen flowing to the organs.”
I paused for a moment, but had to ask. “Okay, so what causes a person to be declared brain dead?”
He gave me several examples of how brain death occurs. It happens when a victim has suffered a severe trauma to the brain from being in a motor vehicle accident. Other situations are from having a stroke, sports injury, or an aneurysm. Tony also emphasized that these types of victims are the most viable donors for organ transplantations.
“Oh. One more thing,” I said. “On your website it reads that the doctor that pronounces the death is different than the one who removes the organ during the donation process. So there is a separation of duties as it relates to the donation process?”
“Yes. They are different. Before we get involved, everything medically possible is done to save the life of a person.”
“What happens if I am in a car accident and pronounced dead at the scene? Is my body taken to the hospital?”
“First responders generally will take the body to the nearest hospital.”
“What happens when I get there?”
“If admitted at the emergency room and pronounced dead, by law the emergency room would be required to contact IDN. If you are taken to the morgue, then the morgue is encouraged to contact IDN, though not mandated by law to do so.”
My jaw dropped. One of those aha moments! “I thought the federal government required first responders, morgues, funeral homes, and other such providers to contact IDN.”
Tony added, “I think some have it written in their company’s policies and procedures to contact IDN, and of course we encourage them to contact us about a death. The sooner we can determine if the person is a donor or if the family is willing to allow that person to be a donor, the better. The organ will need to be removed within a matter of hours. And there is much to be done before an organ can be determined as eligible and be removed. Time is of the essence. Just because a person is a donor does not mean that at the time of their death they are medically eligible to donate. A medical evaluation, along with information from family helps determine the eligibility of a donor. Let’s say that we asked your family if you had traveled out of the country recently. And they told us that you had been to Africa for the past month or so and were exposed to the Ebola outbreak. We would not consider your organs as eligible for transplantation, no matter how good of a match. We couldn’t risk transplanting an organ that was potentially diseased. Some diseases do not show up for months in a person’s system.”
“Just one more thing,” I said. “What if I die suddenly at home or if I am terminally ill and die at home under hospice care?”
“You need to make sure that hospice and or family members are aware that they are to contact IDN since ER and ICU are the only providers required by law to do so. That’s the bottom line,” Tony said.
This whole process was truly amazing to me!
Also, Tony informed me that it is far more difficult to discuss donations with the family when a death occurs suddenly, and the family objects because they had no idea that their loved one was registered to be a donor.
That statement was a wonderful segue way for me to ask: “What if a family member does object to their loved one being a donor even though they have registered?”
“No one can override a person’s authorization and donation choice,” Tony said. “Registering as a donor serves as legal consent. However, we make every effort to work with the family to honor the decision of the donor. We seek agreement and compromise with family members. It’s tough when the family is not aware of a donor’s registration, which is why we encourage people to communicate their decision to be a donor with family prior to any thing happening.”
For more details about my visit and tour of the IDN facility in North Liberty, it is covered in Chapter 10 in my book Profundities of Love.
In concluding, at the time of my death, if it is medically possible for my body parts to extend someone else’s life, I would like to give someone that gift. While I am alive and have the mental capacity, this is the appropriate time for me to communicate my donor designation to my family in order to avoid any delays during the donation process. To reinforce my comment that I will not have a need for my physical body once I die, let’s read I Corinthians 15:50 (KJV) which states:
50Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God;
Something to think about:
Consider being a donor. What a gift to be given to those in need. What if you or your loved one needed an organ, eye, or tissue? Moreover, should you decide to become a donor, please, please communicate that decision to your family or the person(s) who needs to know that information before anything happens. Be considerate of those left behind to deal with your death, whether sudden or not. No surprises!