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Donate life this April

Modified: Wednesday, Apr 10th, 2013

Lay out a calendar – doesn’t matter if it’s monthly, daily, whatever – and throw a dart. Now, whatever date you landed on is a day, week or month, whether you realize it or not.

Sept. 19 is National Talk Like a Pirate Day. Evidently, Jan. 31 if National Zebra Day, a day to admire the exotic striped creature. Faschnaut Day, Mardi Gras, Arbor Day – the beat goes on.

And entire months are dedicated to things like women’s history and breast cancer awareness. All are worthy causes, even the pursuit of talking like a pirate, but, because of our need to give every issue its time in the sun, we’ve cheapened them all.

For example, do you really care more about preventing prostate cancer during its week or month (neither of which I can remember off the top of my head)? Will you suddenly start donating money you didn’t before?

To me, this is sad, because there’s so many issues out there that deserve our full attention but won’t get it because of the saturation of dates to remember. In the end, it all comes down to what we really care about.

I guess I’m lucky, then, that anyone who decides to read this column, however few, will hear about the one month I never forget.

April is National Donate Life Month or Organ Donor Awareness Month, depending on preference, I suppose. Today, a Wednesday, or whatever day you read this column, 18 people will die awaiting an organ transplant that won’t come.

It’s tragic considering the majority of these deaths could be prevented if everyone just checked a little box at their local DMV. The whole situation reminds me of a story I never tell.

My best friend once needed an organ transplant. Do you have someone in your life who you can always call when you need something, anything? That person who is always there, whether it’s 3 p.m. or 3 a.m., rain or shine? That someone you tell everything, good and bad?

Yeah, that was the guy who needed an organ transplant. To me, he was always the healthiest guy around – until he wasn’t. I knew the situation was getting worse, and, one day, I sat and listened in stunned silence as doctors told him he’d officially been put on the organ transplant list due to newfound liver cancer.

So, everyone, family and friends, waited as my best friend got sicker and sicker. But, lo and behold, a matching liver, the greatest thing we could have asked for, came – in April. After we waited all night, he came through surgery alive and OK.

The following months were some of the happiest times of my life, watching him grow stronger and stronger. I was unemployed during summer break of college at the time, which allowed me to watch the miracles of modern medicine up close.

I walked with him, gardened for him and did chores he was not yet strong enough to do himself. But, it was all very short-lived.

That summer turned into a nightmare. My friend spent most of those months in a hospital. Every day, I went to my new job. Then I came home, took the dog for a short walk an drove to the hospital

with a sandwich-to-go in hand for dinner. I stayed and sat with him until visiting hours closed. The next day, I did it all again.

As the months progressed, he went back home, but it was clear to me that something wasn’t right. Even though doctors kept insisting he was improving, I felt otherwise. Looking back, I wish I was brave enough to challenge those doctors, but I suppose that’s why they say hindsight is 20-20.

The months became one hospital visit after another. Finish class, drive two hours to the hospital, stay a day or two, drive back to school. I had never been so emotionally exhausted.

Eventually, doctors admitted something was, in fact, very wrong, and he was put back on the transplant list. Christmas was a wash that year; he was in so much pain. It was hard for everyone to smile, to laugh.

For those who have never watched someone slowly die, I hope you never have to. I sat day after day with my best friend – my Dad – until he was gone that February 2011. He had recently turned 57.

Though I miss him every day, I have not forgotten a promise I made. You see, Dad was lucky. He got one organ. He didn’t feel he deserved another chance, a chance thousands upon thousands don’t get.

My promise was to try to get more people to become organ donors, and, if I had the means, I would dedicate my life to increasing organ donations so others would not have to feel what we felt and see what we saw. I hope this editorial can serve as a meager but well-meaning part of that promise.

Right now, only 42 percent of Americans are registered as organ donors. Forty. Two. That’s pathetic to me, and the unfounded rumors some simple-minded people believe – like a doctor not saving someone’s life if they’re an organ donor – don’t help.

A single organ donor can save eight lives. It is literally as simple as telling the clerk at WYDOT you’d like to be an organ donor.

When I turned 16 and got my driver’s license, I looked up to Dad when the woman at the desk asked me if I wanted to be an organ donor.

“Of course,” he said, asking me later that, if I’m gone, why wouldn’t I want to save someone else’s life?

Now that he’s gone, hopefully I can push this same train of thought forward and help save lives that otherwise might be lost. Become an organ donor this month.

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