Beautiful heart shining over the lake

Beautiful heart shining over the lake

I promised you catch up on two days, so here is the second day,
Tuesday, Nov 4th…

Election Day, 2008
Here we are, election day 2008, a very exciting time of change for our country.  Today is a busy schedule, and despite a very late night Monday, its get out of bed in time to vote at 6 AM to avoid predicted long voting lines given the early polling start time opportunity here in New Jersey.

First stop, Drexel . . .
Arrived at Drexel University’s school of medicine for one of two annual presentations to the second-year medical students in their medical ethics class, some 250 students in a huge amphitheater supported by several doctors who teach in this excellent program. After those instructors describe micro and macro allocation as it applies in the example of organ donation and transplantation, an educator from the organ procurement organization, Kelly from the Gift of Life Donor Program, introduces the OPO role in the overall process. We then share our life experiences to add the human element to those seemingly abstract concepts, hoping to touch hearts as they undergo their medical education preparing to be doctors, some moved to tears as Pam describes the tragedy of losing her 13-year-old son in an automobile accident, hit by a driver too busy on their cell phone, resulting in his becoming an organ donor. Sharing how with three organs donated, not only three lives were saved, but in sharing his memory and in the families of those three patients literally thousands have been touched in their lives affected by that single decision. In addition, her own life was saved, by adding purpose at that time of despair, now using his memory to promote organ donation, saving so many lives in that process. 

I on the other hand share the story of a failing heart and how the donation decision by Roberto’s family resulted in my receiving his heart back in October of 1994, asking this audience of young students, “So his heart ended up in Philadelphia, and I ask you now, where is his heart today?” Somebody finally breaks the silence by saying, “Here… in you.”  And confirming that right answer I point out that Roberto was dead, and ask them the question, was his heart dead? There is very seldom any answer offered to that question, and so I volunteer that I don’t know if it makes sense to say whether an organ is dead or alive, but if his heart was dead and I certainly wouldn’t be standing here today sharing his story. These future doctors are left with the challenge that they now understand transplantation works, urging them to make their own personal decision about organ donation, and finally, to share that decision with their family so that that family does not have to grapple with that complex question at a time of tragedy, and to take action to register as an organ donor in their state registry.

Breakout groups . . .
Following the one hour class, the students break out into small workgroups of about a dozen students and a professor to work through some exercises dealing with the many complex issues of organ allocation in society. Choosing to sit in on those sessions provides an opportunity to add personal commentary from real-life experience to what is often a fun filled and eye-opening session. This is repeated in the second session for the other half of the students, and then finally, some three hours later it is time to move on, fight the five o’clock expressway traffic and continue even further from home to grab a quick supper and then speak to an evening nursing class at Eastern University.

Eastern Univesity, nine years later . . .
We’ve been working with Dr. Bird for nine years now, speaking each November sharing donor and transplant stories with a new class of college students, offering them the same challenge of understanding, decision and family discussion.  Each year there seems to be one student, often with the same name, Christopher, who connects with Pam’s memories in a very special way, and this class was no exception. It was a hot classroom, and outside our nation was finishing up electing our new president, a potential distraction to our message with several students absent from class to ensure their own voting. As is usual, as our mutual stories progressed, passing back and forth to transplant experience, this audience mistakenly anticipates that I had received Pam’s son’s heart. We can often hear the quiet disappointment in an audience when it becomes obvious that that is not the case, my 1994 transplant being so distant from Christopher’s 1997 donation.  But that audience is caught with with unanticipated surprise and delight when our stories come together as I describe giving this heart back to a donor family when we got married in October of 2005.  And so, with many questions raised and answers given to these young inquiring minds, we give our farewells to her good friend, Dr. Bird, and drive the hour long ride back home, tired but feeling so fulfilled with this mission accomplished yet again, touching the hearts of youth who hopefully will fulfill their dreams of a career in the medical profession, possibly supporting some donor family or transplant patient in the years ahead with greater understanding because of the sharing.

Election results . . .
And so we sit and watch the TV as the election returns come in and states’ winners declared.  Pam falls asleep on the couch, exhausted from both a long day and the cold that just won’t give up. I find myself wide awake and watch the TV and final concession and acceptance speeches by the two candidates until after 1am. A new era has begun and I slide into bed in the early morning hours curious as to what the days ahead will hold for our new president and our country so challenged in many ways that nobody has any easy answers to offer. As I said in describing Monday, please keep them in your prayers.

PS: The onion remedy worked!  Coughing disappeared through the night as that onion aroma filled (stank up) the bedroom, providing peaceful sleep!  And in looking into the details of that invitation to attend the 2009 World Transplant Games in Australia, decided it was much too rich for our blood, even with the stop over in Hawaii, it would cost over $7,000, but such fun to even consider.  Thanks Rachael, for that beautiful thought and invite, but we do hope that you will enjoy it yourself next August there on the Gold Coast of “down under” – maybe next time (smile).

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