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Smell the Coffee: A change of heart

By Karin Fuller

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- My husband, Geoff, and I recently participated in a focus group assembled to gather opinions about organ donation while also reviewing a proposed advertising campaign on the same subject.

As the group's leader set up his display of three proposed advertising slogans, Geoff leaned over and whispered, "Why are they asking us? Isn't their target market ... well ... dead?"

I shushed him and tried to be serious. Succeeded for nearly a minute. Couldn't resist jotting down a slogan of my own and sliding it over to Geoff.

"See the world through new eyes -- your neighbor's."

All joking aside, Geoff and I realized how tough it would be to try to find ways to promote a subject most people don't want to think about, much less make an effort to do something about.

The leader explained some of the many reasons people give for not registering to become a donor. Some believe it's against their religion (all major religions in the U.S. support organ, eye and tissue donation, viewing it as the final act of love and generosity toward others); some fear there are costs involved (there are no costs whatsoever to the donor's family); or that when doctors realize the person is a donor, they won't make as valiant an effort to keep them alive (a doctor's priority is to save lives, and organ donation can only be considered after brain-death occurs; moreover, the medical care team is completely different from the transplant team).

Some believe they're too old (there's no defined cutoff age for donating organs) or that a preexisting illness precludes them from being a viable donor (few medical conditions disqualify one from donating organs).

Most think simply checking the box on their driver's license is enough. Sometimes it is. Often it's not. The designation does not always satisfy each state's requirements for being a donor.

I'd registered to become a donor many years ago, signing up with the Living Bank in deference to my favorite uncle, Edgar Frankwich, who lived an extra decade, thanks to his transplanted heart.

Still, I'd mostly forgotten about our discussions about organ donation when I happened across a segment on "Good Morning America," where they rebroadcast a story by reporter Gary Reaves that originally appeared on its ABC affiliate, WFAA in Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas.

The story was about 13-year-old Taylor Storch, of Texas, who was vacationing with her family in Colorado when, on the last day of their ski trip, Taylor crashed into a tree. After Taylor's parents were told she would not survive, they decided to donate her organs, knowing it was something their daughter would have wanted.

The recipient of Taylor's heart was Patricia Winters, a 39-year-old Arizona mother whose heart had begun to fail shortly after the birth of her second son five years earlier. Winters' condition had deteriorated to the point where she was so weak she was sleeping 18 hours a day.

Although recipients of donated organs are usually kept confidential, publicity following Taylor's death enabled both her family and the recipient's to quickly recognize their connection.

The televised segment I watched (www.wfaa.com/news/health/taylors-gift-103409364.html) shows Taylor's parents meeting Patricia Winters for the first time. Taylor's mom hugs Winters so tight, and you can guess what she's thinking. Taylor's heart is there. It's still beating.

Although it was nowhere near the same as getting to hold her daughter again, I can imagine how it must feel to know that a part of her is still alive -- even if it's in someone else.

I suppose there are some naysayers who might feel that it's morbid, but I can't imagine anything more comforting than to know the person you loved is still around and still able to help another person.

Actually, many others, since a single donor can save as many as nine lives through organ donation, and can enhance more than 50 lives through tissue donation. In Taylor's case, her pancreas and one kidney went to a 49-year-old husband and father, while her other kidney went to a 33-year-old man. Her corneas and liver changed two other lives.

All I know is I've never seen anything that affected me quite like seeing those two women embracing -- the one who had lost a life, and the one who had found life as a result.

Reach Karin Fuller via email at karinfuller@gmail.com. For more information on the organ donation campaign Taylor Storch's family has launched, visit taylorsgift.org.


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