I am an emotional wreck today. So many thoughts and feelings are flooding my head – and my heart. I signed up months ago to volunteer for a fun run benefitting organ and tissue donation, the Donate Life Texas 2nd Chance Run, that took place in Sugar Land this morning. Up at 5:00 am and on the road just after 6:00, I was too busy getting ready and getting there, navigating in the dark, spilling coffee in the car, to really think about my involvement in the cause.
Those of you who know me or have been following along know that my sister Julie, who died in 2004 at the hands of drunk driver, was an organ and tissue donor. Through her donation, upwards of 60 – 80 individuals’ lives were either saved or enriched, including NFL quarterback Carson Palmer. That story has been told twice, in 2006 by Bloomberg writer Curtis Eichelberger and in 2014 by ESPN The Magazine writer Dave Fleming.
Following the original story, I served for six years as the Donor Family Representative on the Donor Board of Trustees of the Musculoskeletal Transplant Foundation, the nation’s largest tissue bank. Wanting to stay involved, last fall I signed up to volunteer with LifeGift Houston, the organ procurement organization (OPO) serving the Houston region. It was a LifeGift family care specialist who approached my family the day of my sister’s accident to discuss organ and tissue donation. Fortunately, Julie had made it known to us that she wanted to be a donor, so when we were approached by LifeGift in the hospital that morning, where Julie lay comatose, we didn’t have to decide, we just carried out her wishes.
I arrived at the stadium parking lot this morning about 6:30. It was still night-dark, and a wet wind whipped through the parking lot, sending anything not nailed down careening across the parking lot. When I checked in, I was told that I would be manning the registry table. My role was to speak to interested parties about donation, encouraging them to consider donation and to register. There were three other volunteers manning the table, Ron, a heart recipient awaiting a kidney, Ralph, 66, who has been on the waiting list for a liver for thirty years, and his lovely wife Sylvia. In the photo above, Ron’s on the left, and Ralph is in the middle.
Once we were set up, I told Ralph I was heading to the refreshment tent for a coffee, and he accepted my offer to bring him one. When I asked how he took his, he answered, “Black, like my future.” With the wind whipping my hair across my face, I had to ask him to repeat it, sure I had misheard him. But no, he was serious, adding with a wry smile, “I have to laugh about my situation.” That hit home. Thirty years he has been waiting for a liver. You don’t get on the waiting list until you are seriously ill, seriously in need. So he’s been seriously ill, several times near death, for thirty years.
As the sun began to rise, muffled by heavy gray clouds, I walked across the lot to get coffee. I noted that runners and walkers had begun to arrive. I also noted, almost peripherally, that the organizers had begun to play music. The first song to play was, not coincidentally, Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More by the Allman Brothers Band. The instant I recognized the song I shifted from thinking to feeling. That song is my theme song.
I write about ‘Transformation Without Tragedy.’ I have experienced two significant waves of personal transformation in my life. The first was triggered by a tragedy, my sister’s sudden death. The second, which began about four years ago, wasn’t the result of a tragedy, but I can pinpoint the triggering ‘event’. One Saturday morning I read a review of Brene Brown’s (then) new book, Daring Greatly. After reading the book, wanting to know more, I took a Daring WayTM intensive workshop here in Houston. On the second or third day, our homework was to come to the workshop with a theme song for ourselves.
As I sat down to figure out what my personal theme song would be, Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More popped into my head, as if out of nowhere. I heard the twang of the slide guitar before I could put my finger on the actual song. Puzzled, I Googled the lyrics and found that it was indeed the perfect theme song for me. Gregg Allman wrote the song for the first album the Allman Brothers recorded following the accidental death of his brother and bandmate, Duane Allman.
Call me crazy but I know my sister had something to do with that song selection. I have always been a fan of the Allman Brothers, but that song had never held any special meaning for me. If you read my blog post about coincidences, you will understand. I have a screensaver on my desktop computer that displays a mosaic of rotating album covers from my library of over 5,000 songs. A couple of days after the workshop, as I absentmindedly stared at the screen, that album cover appeared right in front of my eyes. A few days later, as I woke up my computer, that song began to play.
So was I surprised to hear that song, of the hundreds of thousands of mainstream songs out there that could have been chosen, playing this morning? No. Did it make me cry? Yes. It made me realize I was meant to be there that very moment, doing exactly what I was doing. And that maybe I wasn’t there alone.
I also had the privilege today of meeting the Hernandez family, pictured immediately above, who were out in full force in memory of Gregorio L. Hernandez, a donor who died of a massive heart attack at the age of 51. His only son, Gregorio (far right in the photo), shared his story about how he was on the phone with his father when his father suffered the heart attack. He ran over and performed CPR on his dad, but it was too late. We both teared up as he told the story. But there they were, three generations of Hernandezes, celebrating the memory of their loved one who generously gave of himself so others could live.
I heard countless testimonials from both sides of the donor equation, donors and recipients, and their families. We all go about our days, doing what we do, but this morning, we were all more human, more real. Life and death were close to the surface. It was dark. It was light. Ultimately, it was uplifting.
April is Donate Life Month. If you have had personal experience with donation, I invite you to share your story. If you are not a registered donor, consider registering. It takes about five minutes. If you are in Texas, go to www.donatelifetexas.org. Elsewhere in the US, go to www.donatelife.net.
Please also share this post with your Facebook, Twitter or WordPress communities. The more people who know, the more who will donate. Each donor can save many lives.
I told Ron and Ralph I would see them at next year’s run. Let’s make that happen.