My mom would have been 71 years old today had her life not been taken by COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), a disease caused by smoking that eventually destroys the lungs. It was a great loss as she was one of the most giving people I know. Through organ donation though, her spirit continues to change the lives of others even three years after her death.
My mother was diagnosed with her disease about four or five years before she died and though those years were up and down when it came to her health, she was a strong woman and always seemed to pull through. Her biggest complaint was she couldn’t see anymore. Being an avid reader with an above average IQ, this was the most debilitating thing for her, especially when she could no longer work because of her breathing. What else was there to do but read?
She decided to finally get cataract surgery so that she would be able to get back to the books she cherished. Three years ago this month, as a birthday present to herself, she finally got the surgery and claimed it was the best thing she had ever done. She had 20/20 vision again and could get back to her passion and the books that she so coveted.
She died three months after the surgery.
Because my mom worked in the medical industry most of her career, she was a big proponent of people donating organs upon their death. Unfortunately, because of the severity of her disease, most of her organs were damaged. Her beautiful blue eyes however, were untouched and offered 20/20 vision. So when she died we made sure they were donated as we knew that’s what she would want.
Six months after my mother’s passing, we received an anonymous letter from the Visual Research Center in Connecticut where we donated my mom’s corneas. It was a thank you letter from the recipient expressing how appreciative they were to receive my mom’s eyes and since the transplantation they had regained their vision. Someone else is literally seeing the world through my mother’s eyes. Not only does a piece of my mom live on in me, but a piece also lives on in someone else. I can’t begin to describe how comforting that is. She gave the ultimate gift.
Organ donation is most likely a topic that you don’t think about on a daily basis. Let’s face it, no one wants to think about their own demise or what happens after we die. But, each year as I renew my driver’s license, I am diligent about checking that tiny box on the back allowing for my organs to be given for transplantation upon my death. I have seen first-hand how simply checking off this little box can make a world of difference in the lives of so many.
So here’s to you Mom, for reminding me that even the smallest gifts can make the biggest difference.
Katrina VanTyne is a Web Content Strategist at the University of Vermont Medical Center. Visit Katrina on Google+.