One year ago, on November 18, 2016, I received the life-altering call: “You’re on the list.”
I was now in line for a double lung transplant at UC San Francisco Medical Center, where I’d been commuting to since 2013 until finally coming to the conclusion that I was out of options.
At 57 years of age, I had images of missing my daughters thriving in their chosen professions, flowing oh-so-gracefully down the aisle when Meaghan and Sierra were each married (without oxygen tanks mind you), reading and playing with my grandchildren, taking salsa dance classes with Steven, visiting every baseball stadium in the United States and Canada with my beloved Steven, living on a self-sustaining communal property in the Pacific Northwest with the girls and family.
Yes, being listed was a huge blessing. Setting all fear aside of the immune-suppressed, mega-pill-popping-life of a post transplant survivor, it was a go.
So, one year later, I wait… with gratitude. I join over 120,000 Americans waiting for an organ transplant; 22,000 live in California. On average, 150 people are added to the nation’s organ transplant list every day while an average of 22 patients die each day waiting, simply because the organ(s) they needed did not get donated in time.
In my new passion of registering as many donors as possible, I would like to dispel some myths about organ donation by providing some facts.
—Anyone, at any age or with a not-so-stellar medical history, can sign up on the Donate Life California Registry at the state Department of Motor Vehicles. (You must be over 13 years of age to donate online and, if under 18 years of age, your family must still consent to carry out a donation.)
—When admitted to the hospital, the number one priority is to save your life. Two doctors not involved in organ donation must declare you brain dead before organ and tissue donation can be considered.
—Celebrity status and wealth are not a consideration. Note Selena Gomez’s recent kidney transplant. A kidney was donated to the singer by her best friend, a living donor. This accelerated her ability to receive a transplant.
—Living donors can provide a kidney or a portion of their liver, lung, pancreas, or intestine in need. (I need two lungs therefore my donor will be deceased.)
—One person can save eight lives and enhance 75 others through organ, eye, and tissue donation.
—Organs and tissue can not be sold. It’s against federal law.
—An open casket is an option for organ, eye, and tissue donors. The body is treated with dignity, care, and respect throughout the entire donation process.
—All major religions support or permit organ, eye, and tissue donation.
—There is no cost to the donor or their family.
—You can sign up by checking “YES! BE A DONOR SAVE LIVES!” on the DMV application when obtaining or renewing your driver’s license or identification card.
Honestly, I’d never given a second thought about the pink dot on my license, registering me as an organ donor since the age of 16. Until I was given the option of a double lung transplant or an early death (one to two years). No question on my decision: I have too much living and loving that doesn’t fit into a one-plus-year deadline.
My hope is that everyone reading this becomes a registered organ donor. And then share this excitement with anyone within your sphere of influence.
Truly, our organs do no good to anyone when buried or incinerated. Yet the possibilities are immense — a chance to give life to an infant, a teen, college student, parent.
Organ donation is one of the most compassionate and loving acts we can offer. Our legacy will go beyond our own family; it becomes a miracle for an unknown family who is facing the loss of their loved one.
Please join me in this mission. It’s a matter of life or death.
This is another installment in a series of articles on the importance of organ donation. Rachelle and her husband, Steve Swinney, have lived in Three Rivers for 31 years. Rachelle was diagnosed with allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis (ABPA) and bronchiestasis. She is dependent on supplementary oxygen 24 hours a day while awaiting a double lung transplant.