While it seems like its been a quiet weekend, upon reflecting back, even in that quiet time there was much activity for the heart.  At church Sunday, Pam and I were invited to preach at next week’s service on our organ donation and transplant experiences as part of Donor Sabbath events in this Philadelphia area (which includes southern New Jersey where we attend church).  Our pastor is very supportive and offered both the sermon time and an after service Adult Bible School teaching event, both of which we accepted, of course.

Pam speaking at NJ Donor Recognition Ceremony NOv 2008

Pam speaking at NJ Donor Recognition Ceremony Nov 2008

Sunday, despite a terrible cold, Pam spoke at our Gift of Life Donor Program’s annual southern New Jersey Donor Recognition Ceremony (one of five such events held every year in their service area) to over 200 new donor family members who were moved to tears at her very passionate speaking.  A distant cry from eight years ago when she came along to see me speak to an evening nurses’ class at Eastern University protected by a promise that she would not have to say anything there, just observe.  When the doctor professor called us up to the front of the classroom, she came forward reluctantly to just sit at the end of the table there.  I had told her she wouldn’t have to say anything, but “if you wanted to join in on any donor related questions in the Q&A, feel free” – to which she clearly replied nervously but adamantly, “No, thank you!”  Well, when we got to the Q&A there were naturally some questions that she, as a “donor mom” (that’s someone who has lost a child and agreed to organ donation), would be much better suited to answer.  When I paused and looked to her, offering that opportunity, she cautiously began to answer their questions and that was just the beginning.  As I so often describe that scene, once they got involved with her (with tissues being passed around the room filled with 40 nurses), I could have left the room and I don’t think anyone would have noticed I was gone (smile).

Oh, was she upset when we finally got back to the car. “You promised I wouldn’t have to say anything…!”  to which I responded, “You didn’t have to say anything, but I’m so glad you did because you did a great job of touching many hearts this evening…  and you were very good!” Out of that evening several things developed. For one, we created a very special presentation technique whereby we both share our stories as one integrated presentation, telling one piece of her donation story, followed by a parallel piece of my transplant experience, then back and forth with another part of her story followed by yet another parallel piece of my own story. This has proved to be a very effective way of showing an audience how both sides of the donation/transplant life experiences are inter-related.

Another outgrowth of that night was Pam’s awakening to the fact that she could see herself going back and completing her college education at night, an accomplishment she did complete, with honors, a couple of years later while working full-time during the day. Every fall we are invited back to address new students in that same class, and tomorrow night it will be seven years of encore performances. One year that class date fell on the anniversary of her son’s birth, making for a very emotional sharing of her life story. On yet another year the class date fell on the anniversary of my own heart transplant, so we brought cupcakes for that class, allowing them to share in the celebration of what I think was the 10th anniversary of that gift of life. Needless to say there is a very special relationship between ourselves and this loving professor who every year integrates into his class the opportunity to share the challenge about understanding and saying yes to organ donation in young students’ lives. And every year we give heartfelt thanks to Dr. Lou Byrd, who has become a very special friend in our lives through this unique class event.

Along the same lines, this same day finds us doing that integrated presentation at the Drexel University College of Medicine where each fall Pam and I are given the opportunity to address two Medical Ethics classes of second-year medical students, sharing our life experiences of organ donation and heart transplantation to add yet another dimension to their medical education as they progress toward the goal of being doctors. One of these classes is a typical classroom environment usually with about 50 students, while the second is an auditorium filled with about 250 students and teaching doctors. Along with an educator from the Gift of Life Donor Program who covers the work of the organ procurement organization and the national and local statistics of organ recovery, we add the human dimension to the numbers and graphs that that educator uses.  The second class then breaks out into small group sessions or workgroups led by one of these teaching doctors where they are challenged with the task of developing an organ procurement policy for a fictitious island society. As members of the president’s committee they grapple with the complexities of fairness and scarce resource in crafting an allocation policy to save lives through organ donation. Pam and I split up and sit in on separate work groups, adding the reality of our experiences to the student’s discussions. This has always been a fascinating event which we have been graciously invited back to for over seven years now. Again, we have been blessed with a very special friendship that has grown with the professors in this class, and look forward to tomorrow’s presentation yet again, touching another 250 young hearts both as individuals and future doctors.

Later in the month I will share other such presentations that are scheduled with audiences of a very different nature. In the meanwhile, I encourage each and every donor and recipient visiting this blog in looking around your world for similar opportunities to reach out and touch “one heart at a time” with your own life story and powerful example encouraging everyone to say yes to organ donation.

Later today I will be stopping by to visit a newly transplanted heart recipient also with the same name of Jim. He and his wife, Patti, have just gone through the lifesaving experience of organ transplantation and hopefully, and will be going home to live a long and healthy life sometime later this week. Please join me in keeping them in your prayers as life’s adventure continues for yet another family touched by the gift of life through organ donation and transplantation.

Once final question: Does your family know your wishes when it comes to organ donation?  Do you know theirs?  If not, why not take time this week to have that discussion.  At the time of tragedy, it is the worst time to have to face that decision not knowing a loved one’s wishes, so initiating that discussion is a true gift from the heart so they don’t have to face it without you at that tragic time.