The Pink Dot on Your Driver’s License
If you agree to be an organ donor on your driver’s license, I am your biggest fan.
There are memories that I have of my father that almost didn’t happen. In 1994 a motorcycle accident claimed the life of a young woman, a total stranger to me and my family. She had checked the “donor” box on her driver’s license. As she lay on the table, they harvested her lungs and put one of them into my father; and in so doing they handed my father eight more years of life.
So what did we gain by adding eight years to the life of a 62 year old man? My father saw the last two of his six children get married, welcomed seven new grandchildren, sold two homes, inspired the lung transplant staff at UCSF with his courage and conviction (thus being dubbed “Lazarus”), spent time teaching his grandchildren to fish, entertained with my mom, mourned for his three sisters, laughed out loud and often, exchanged jokes with his two brothers, told us amazing stories of his life and work in San Franicisco in the 1950′s and 1960′s, celebrated many more Thanksgivings, playfully teased his mother inlaw, helped fix our cars, reminisced about his childhood when I cut his hair, warmed any room with his smile, transferred his love of nature to my son, always offered encouragement, held my hand, endured the tough times of a transplant patient with strength and grace, teased his cat Skipper, with diminished lung capacity and a walker flew a couple weeks after 9-11-01 to meet his grandchild, and above all he was here and part of our lives when he wouldn’t have been without the gift that anonymous young woman gave him and us.
I spent a lot of time with a lot of troubled families when I was the Art Director on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and they all touched me in some way, however, I remember one of our families had lost a boy in an auto accident. His organs were donated. During the reveal of the finished new home a young girl came to visit. She was the heart recipient. The energy in the room was emotionally charged as the boy’s mom greeted her. Watching the mom embrace a girl who was able to stand there because of her son’s gift was both heartbreaking and awe inspiring. At that moment I couldn’t help but wish I could thank the family in person whose daughter/sister gave my dad a lung. But would they be angry, sad, resentful, and/or happy to meet me? At a friend’s funeral recently I struggled with the awkward moment when you are joyful for the reunion of old friends at the gathering but depressed for the reason you are reuniting. I imagine a meeting with my dad’s donor’s family would be very similar but I’ll never know.
If you check “yes” on the donor box on your license, though it may cause you to confront your own mortality, I can only tell you from someone who has been on the other side, how precious a gift you might give.