Imagine being visited by the Police and informed your loved one has been in an accident. Going to the hospital. Escorted into a private room. Being told they are not going to survive. Imagine holding them as they die. Like a movie, playing in slow motion.
For us this isn’t imagination. It’s the reality we now live. We held our youngest son as he took his last breath.
Now imagine, as your world is collapsing around you, being asked if you had discussed organ and tissue donation. What would you say? Have you discussed it with your family? A serious discussion so they know how passionately you want to be a donor, and which organs and tissues you would like to donate?
People will often say to us, “I just can’t imagine”, but that’s not really true. For sure you can’t know exactly how this feels unless it happens to you, and we certainly wouldn’t want that. But you can imagine, or at least try to. And you should. Because trying to think about this when you are in the ER and numb with shock is pretty much impossible. You may be tempted to say no to donation, just because you didn’t have that discussion with your loved one and don’t know their wishes. It’s easier to say no than to try to think about it. But you may come to regret that decision, when the shock subsides, and you realize you are left with …. Nothing.
My son, Bryn, was involved in a tragic car accident. He was literally 3 minutes from home when, of all the crazy things, he collided with a horse that had broken free and strayed onto the road. Do you think this type of thing can’t possibly happen to you? We did too until we got the visit from the Police that every parent fears.
Bryn had been flown by STARS to the U of A Hospital in Edmonton. When we got there we were escorted into a private room where we were told he had suffered such extensive brain damage he was not going to survive.
Then, just a little later came the question, “have you considered organ and tissue donation?”
Bryn was just 17 years old. He was our son. A brother to his only sibling. A grandson. Nephew. Cousin. A friend to more people than he realized. He was healthy and incredibly fit; a 2nd level black belt in Taekwnodo. He was intelligent too, “gifted” in fact. He had a keen interest in cars and motor mechanics, and a passion for music; playing the keyboard, guitar and drums and creating his own amazing compositions. He had his whole life ahead of him and yet he had already made the selfless decision to be a donor. Why wouldn’t he donate his organs if he no longer needed them? With his very logical brain it just made sense to him. So we said yes. He saved us from making that decision. It was what he wanted.
Tragically, despite four people being brought into the hospital and prepared ready to receive Bryn’s organs, it was not to be. Even though he was one of the very few people who actually meet all the criteria to donate, an eleventh hour complication meant his organs could not be used. Four people did not receive the organs they so desperately needed that day. We felt cheated and angry at the world. Not only had our son been taken from us, fate had deprived us even of his final wish.
We lived for nearly two years with that feeling of … “Nothing”. Then, close to the second anniversary of Bryn’s death, we received some amazing news that one of Bryn’s heart valves had been used to save the life of a 2 day old baby boy. And that wasn’t all; his skin tissue donations had helped a 29 year old burn victim. In fact, at that time, we learned Bryn’s tissue donations had helped some 11 people to live, or to have a better quality of life. Even though Bryn’s organs could not be donated, the gift of his tissue donations were having such an amazing impact on so many lives.
There was no purpose for Bryn’s senseless death. No ‘grand plan’. Three years on it’s still so easy for us to be crushed by a song on the radio, a photo, a comment from someone who meant no harm. Just about anything we can’t plan and prepare ourselves for can suck the air from our lungs. We do find some comfort though in knowing Bryn did not die for nothing. He is living on in others.
We received a letter from the parents of the young boy who received Bryn’s heart valve. They were so thankful to us, and to Bryn. They told us their son is doing very well. He is running and playing like any boy his age would. We like to think Bryn is taking special care of this little boy.
I can’t imagine why anyone would not want to donate after death and I truly hope that no family will face a lifetime of regret, at withholding consent, simply because they didn’t have the conversation and didn’t know what to do. A lifetime of living with … Nothing.
Please have the discussion about organ and tissue donation with your family and make sure they know your wishes. Don’t leave them with nothing.