Organ Donation – A Personal Story

21 Apr

In honor of National Organ Donation month in April, we invited guest blogger Robyn to share her story with us.  Robyn recounts the story of how organ donation suddenly became a very personal issue in her life:

April 2, 2002, my 16-year-old daughter, Charis, and I went out for our customary evening walk.  Charis was as healthy as could be.  She was tall, thin, active, and she didn’t use drugs or drink.  She had never had any health problems at all beyond the typical childhood illnesses.

Charis became a statistic within a few moments’ time when she had a massive, unexplained coronary—like the stories you hear on the news, where a track star, or basketball player collapsed and died.  Only she didn’t die.  She hung in there and survived.

By the middle of the night, she was in surgery for a heart bypass.  The bypass didn’t save her heart, and she was placed on life support with 85% of her heart destroyed.  Our only hope was a heart transplant, and she was moved to the very top of the list to receive the first heart available for her size and blood type.  For nearly two weeks she lay in the ICU in a near-coma, on a ventilator and feeding tube.  She couldn’t speak and could barely move, writing notes on a pad lying on her stomach.  At 5’6”, she only weighed 102 pounds when she had her heart attack, and lost 20 pounds in the ICU, so weak that she was sleeping almost all the time.

April 12, 2002, a family in east Texas allowed their 12-year-old son to ride a 4-wheeler in a pasture.  His father was doing yard work, and watching as his son rode around.  He wasn’t reckless, he wasn’t wild, and he wasn’t going fast.  He went up a small incline, gave it a little bit too much gas, which caused it to come up and roll backwards on top of him, crushing his skull.  Dad ran to him and gave him CPR until the ambulance arrived.  By the next day, he was declared brain dead, but was kept on life support as the family gathered to say their goodbyes.

April 14, 2002, we received a call at 2:00 a.m. with the news that a heart was available.  It was one of the most heart-wrenching moments of my life, knowing that because someone else’s child died, mine would be given a chance to live.

The previous evening, I had prayed a desperate prayer.  I had told God that we were ready to give Charis to Him.  Whatever He wanted to do, we were ready.  In my heart, I was letting her go, believing that she would soon die.  But then we got the call.

We all gathered and kissed her goodbye, and I collapsed in tears as the doors shut behind her.  My baby girl was going to have her heart taken out of her chest.  There was no turning back now.  She was in surgery by 6:00 a.m., and out by 10:00 a.m.!

That is far from the end of the story.  After a heart transplant, you don’t just walk out of the hospital healed.  You have a set of lifelong issues.  Because of immunosuppressant drugs, Charis will always be extra fragile and susceptible to all sorts of illnesses.  She was diagnosed with lymphoma when she was 21, and underwent 6 months of horrible chemo, but is now in remission.

Charis was told that a side effect of one of the chemo drugs was that she would be sterile.  Yet again, she rose above it.  She had gotten engaged the Christmas after the bout of cancer, and in June discovered that she was pregnant.  Her doctors advised her to terminate her pregnancy, but she chose to carry the baby.  She and Isidro got married in November, and Elijah was born about 6 weeks early, very small, but healthy, in January of 2009.  The pregnancy caused her to go into rejection, which she has been treated for ever since.

Charis and her son, Elijah

Elijah turned 2 in January of this year.  Charis is loving life, loving being a mom.  I’m just so, so thankful for every single day we have her.

I urge everyone reading this to consider becoming an organ donor.  It is vitally important that your closest family members know your wishes.  As you can see by my story, events happen so quickly that there isn’t time in the moment.  Go to www.donatelife.com and click on “Register” to find your state and discover the process for your state.

Lastly, please know that your status as a potential donor doesn’t affect your treatment in an emergency.  Rich or famous people are not bumped to the top of the list.  The list is name, occupation, social status blind.  It is listed by severity, and a few other statistics, such as blood type.

I’m more than happy to answer any questions, or to expound on my daughter’s story.  Feel free to email me at robyn.rutkowski@yahoo.com.

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