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Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Gift of Life

September 9, 2006, a day that will be forever etched in my memory.  A day that changed our lives, a day that was filled with so much pain, hope, fear, love, uncertainty, direction and every other contradiction you could possibly think of.  The day my daughter was involved in her fatal accident, the day we had to say good-bye.  

As many of you may already be aware from previous postings, Rachel was an organ donor.  She had chosen to register herself as an organ donor when she renewed her license earlier that year.  I still remember how happy she was not only to have renewed her license, but that if anything ever happened to her, she would be able to give the gift of life.  We had discussed what the gift meant to her and why she had chosen to be a donor.  

So when it came time to make that decision, we simply followed Rachel's wishes, giving the ultimate gift - life!  We were very fortunate to have had the opportunity to discuss this wish with Rachel, and since then not only am I a registered donor, but have made sure my family knows my wishes as well.  

Why do I bring up this topic?  Today I was invited to share Rachel's story, my story with the physicians and staff of the very hospital Rachel had been taken to and cared for.  It is not the first time I had been invited to share the story, I had been there once before.  But today I was invited to speak to the doctors who are involved in the care of critical patients, as well as to share my gratitude with the staff of the unit Rachel had been transferred to.  

So what do you say to physicians?  What could they possibly want to hear?  They are not the ones who bring up the subject of organ donation to the families, their only task is to determine the prognosis and decide on the steps needed to help their patient, and the best course of action.  First let me explain, the doctor's role is to determine if there is any medical hope, if there is something that can be done to save the life of the person in their care.  If they determine that even with the most extreme of measures, nothing can change the outcome, they are in turn to notify the nearest organ bank that there may be a potential donor.  That is the extent of their involvement in the organ donation process.  

So why is it so hard to make that referral?  I have come to realize that they are afraid that this will have an adverse effect on the family, how can the family be subjected to this, aren't they in enough pain already.  I have spoken to many other donor families, and each one feels as I do, the worst that could have happened, has, anything further, really has no more tragic effect.  One common theme that I have heard over and over, is that most families were glad for the opportunity to help others live.  It is comforting to us to know that Rachel helped 3 individuals live a more productive life.  Rachel was able to donate both her kidneys and her liver, which helped three gentlemen, one of which had a young son and was engaged to be married the following spring.  

Is it an easy decision, not necessarily, but the hope it fills the families with is amazing.  It allows our loved ones to live on through others, helping them live their life to their full potential.  I have met many a recipient of organ donations since Rachel's death, and I have had the pleasure of co-speaking with many of them and learning how truly grateful they are for the gift of life.  It is funny how they consider my family and I to be heroes, I don't feel like a hero, I simply feel like someone who fulfilled my daughter's wishes; allowing her to do what she did best, giving selflessly to others.  

Visit with the Staff from BMC & NEOB (I'm on the fair right).
Rachel and so many like her, have given the gift of life to so many people who would not otherwise be able to live a more normal, healthy life.  There is also a tremendous comfort in knowing that Rachel lives on in others, not only through her life, but through her death as well.  I will be forever grateful to the staff of Boston Medical Center, the Emergency Room doctors, nurses and technicians, as well as the physicians, nurses, coordinators on the Critical Care Unit that was Rachel's home for the last hours of her life. There kindness, compassion, and their ability to share their own humanness with our family has meant so much to us.  As I told the staff today, I may not remember everything that was said to me and my family that fateful day, but I do remember how they made me feel.  

Even well after Rachel had been officially pronounced 'brain dead,' and we stayed until the moment Rachel was taken to the Operating Room for the removal of her organs; Rachel was treated with the utmost dignity and respect.  She was still a patient, their patient, and we were still a family in need of compassion and care; even to the point of being almost force-fed by one of the nurses, (thanks Odessa for making the soup); we mattered, we were important and they showed us that throughout the day and well into the evening hours.  It may take years before so many memories of that day are gently erased from my memory; but until then I remain indebted to all the hard work of all the medical staff, from EMT's, physicians, nurses, coordinators, technicians, and all others who performed their jobs, and went beyond what was required of them.  

A special gratitude goes to the staff of the NEOB (New England Organ Bank), who worked their magic to guide us through the donation process, and keeping us informed every step of the way.  And a very special thanks to all of you who have said yes! to organ donation in light of your own tragedies, giving the ultimate gift.  

I must clarify here, that unfortunately, not everyone who dies, can donate.  Much depends on the manner of death, the health of the potential donor, and how quickly all the parties involved are notified.  Also, please do not feel as if this should be an automatic option for you or your loved one, not everyone is comfortable with such a gift.  There are also cultures, religious beliefs, or other personal factors, that may make donation difficult or unfavorable.  The important thing to remember, whether for yourself or a loved one, is to discuss the possibility of being a donor, making your wishes known.  This simple act lifts the burden off your loved ones, helping them fulfill your wishes.  

For more information about organ donation, what is means, who is helped; contact your nearest Organ Bank or local hospital.  There are thousands of people waiting for the gift of life.  In the New England area, you can contact the New England Organ Bank.  There are many networks nationally and internationally, that focus on the gift of life.  Many of these organizations have websites, which give you insight into the the entire process.  They also share with you the story of donor families and recipients.  And as I said earlier, the recurring theme is one of gratitude, not only from the recipients and their families, but from the donor families as well.  

Blessings! and until we meet again.


  1. Hi Rose,
    Not sure why i decided to read your blog.I am a follower of Cheryl blog as we met thru the loss of our kids.I lost my daughter in July of 2006 a car accident,she went thru the windshield,she was 15 the accident was on June 28th and Kassie my daughter live for 6 days in a drug in duce come where the 6 th day no more blood going thru to the brain,took her off life support and had her organs donated.but on the second morning of her being in the hospital i got a visit from a lady from the organ bank,and as u i can't remember alot of those 6 days.but i decided when i knew Kassie wasn't going live to help save other life's.after i made the decision one of my niece's came to me and said Kassie when she got her license was going have that on hers,smile i did the right thing.I also dealt with New England organ bank as i am from Maine.A yr. after Kassie died the the organ bank had a gather for the lost life's in the last yr. that my family and i went to it was in Auburn Maine,if u are from near here was wondering if you went?I Kassie save 3 life's with her kidneys and liver.
    Rose all you said here is so how i feel.

    Hugs Karen/Kaz

  2. Karen, I am so sorry.

    I know how difficult it has been for me and how much I long for my daughter. Yes, I agree the minutes, hours and days surrounding Rachel's accident for the most part is a blur. There are some details that I hope to someday forget. As for the New England Organ Bank Annual recognition, I live near the Boston area, and we attended the ceremony in our area.

    Our family is grateful every day for the making the organ donation, and for what Rachel represents in our lives.

    Take care Karen,
    Hugs, Love Rose Mary

  3. Rose sure understand what you are saying about forgetting.One lady that got one of Kassie kidneys lives in Boston,spend a weekend with her a couple yrs. ago.Have a neice that lives in Mass..

    Take Care Rose
    Love & Hugs Karen

  4. Karen,

    I am so happy that you have been able to meet one of the recipients. We have not yet met any of Rachel's benefactors, but who knows, we may still be granted that wish. I have had the privilege of being able to speak on behalf of organ donation, on several occasions, who knows, I may have met someone you know.

    My family and I live just about an hours time south of Boston. If you ever have the opportunity to head south, do look us up.

    Love & Hugs, Rose Mary

  5. Rose Mary, This post, as well as Karen's comments, really shows how important it is to donate organs when possible. I am glad knowing your daughters gave this gift of life to others brings some comfort to you both. And Karen getting to meet a recipient, how special. I hope you both had good memories yesterday on Mother's Day mixed in with you sadness.

  6. Nancy, thank you.

    Yes, Rachel's ultimate gift has been a great solace for us. I believe she is always with us, but to know she lives on by giving the gift of life to someone else, just goes beyond words.

    Take care, I hope you had a wonderful day Sunday as well. Hugs, Rose Mary