I often see people at the worst times in their life. My job is to help them navigate the system. I share the following to encourage readers to seriously consider organ donation. This was written to the donor by a client whose wife had a successful liver/kidney transplant. (It is edited for space restrictions).
"Although we don't know each other and have never met, it important for me to write this letter.
I have long known that if my wife was ever going to have a chance at a continued life, someone was going to have to die. We are deeply sorry for the loss of your loved one. But I promise you, that as long as we are alive, not a day will go by that we won't remember the precious gift of life with deep gratitude. Here is our story.
After spending weeks in San Francisco, we have a new appreciation for never having a hard time finding a parking spot in rural northern California!
Before I met my wife, she had married a Navy Seal who had served our Nation during the Vietnam War. He later committed suicide, like so many who have been exposed to the ugliness of war. I have worked most of my life in a small family business.
Three years ago, (seven years into our marriage), I first noticed my wife's deteriorating health: rapid weight loss and low energy. Soon she was diagnosed with end stage liver and kidney disease.
Together we proceeded with the lengthy and expensive process of becoming qualified for placement on the National Organ Transplant List. We prodded through each of the tests and procedures. It was horrible. I would hold her hand as she would scream out in pain and cry during these procedures. Often, my thoughts and prayers turned toward others who were also facing their last chance for life.
Liver and kidney disease, like many diseases, is a very wicked and cruel experience for the victim and their caregivers. Unable to filter out toxins she would develop hepatic encephalopathy. This happens when the ammonia levels in the blood to the brain become abnormally high. It causes severe confusion and erratic behavior, and at other times
becoming almost zombie-like. Her brain would begin to shut down causing us to have to rush to the hospital for intervention, or risk her going into a coma and dying.
The only medication that could effectively prevent encephalopathy, is an equally wicked drug called Lactulose. It is like pancake syrup that she had to drink many times daily. It causes complete loss of bowel control. Then there was the itching. The buildup of toxins would cause her to itch as if she had poison oak all over her body. Often, unable to sleep, my wife would itch herself until her arms and back were covered in blood. There were many times we would arrive at the ER with the blood soaking right through the shirt I had just put on her.
After a year, she qualified to be on the National Organ Wait list. We waited. We continued trips to San Francisco, periodically having to rush to the ER due to her encephalopathy. We started to lose hope. As one doctor put it, “Getting a matching double transplant would be like winning the Lottery, twice!"
When the magic call finally came, I called my wife and said, “Pack your things and call the kids, I'll be home in 15 minutes."
Walking out the front door of our little single wide, I realized that when I returned, I could be coming home alone, having to learn to continue my life as a widower, to adjust to all the memories around me, and plan a funeral.
Though we had all hoped for this moment, none of us were prepared to experience it. The odds of her returning alive were not in her favor. As she gave her children the last hug before boarding the plane, it became hard for me to breath and even harder still to swallow. Everything around me seemed to be slowing down, becoming more focused, with clarity that this would become the most important day of my life. This was because, an individual whom the Lord had chosen to take back home had made possible the gift of life for a stranger.
Before her transplant the simplest movement was a chore. Now, four mounts later, she is walking five miles daily.
We know nothing about the individual whose death made continued life possible for my wife. But we do know that nothing is more valuable than the gift we received. Again, we convey our gratitude to the Andretti Family for having made available to their employees decent Health Insurance. Because of all this - and God's love – My wife and I celebrated the Christmas we thought we were never going to have together. It was the best Christmas ever.
It is my hope that this letter does not bring you sadness, rather provides you some comfort, and knowledge of a continuation of your loved ones life."