Feb. 14 was National Donor Day, an observance dedicated to spreading awareness and education about organ, eye and tissue donation. By educating and sharing the Donate Life message, we can each take small steps every day to help save and heal more lives, and honor the donor’s legacy of generosity and compassion. Last year, in the United States, more than 35,000 individuals were given a second chance at life through organ donation and transplantation.
On the Blackfeet Reservation there is a very special person who registered himself as an organ donor. John Francis Davis, also known locally as “The Captain,” gave the ultimate gift so that others could live upon his passing from this earthly life. John was able to donate his heart, liver, kidneys and lungs to five people who received transplants. His corneas are being preserved for future patients for sight preservation or restoration surgery.
Organ donation is a rare and remarkable process with less than one percent of all people who die being medically eligible to donate their organs. In John’s case his heart went to a very grateful woman in her thirties; his right kidney was transplanted into a woman with one child also in her thirties; his left kidney went to a man in his thirties; his liver was given to a man in his sixties; and both lungs were given to a man in his fifties. John’s gift of life to others has had an enormous impact, not just on the lives of recipients, but on their families and friends as well. Organ and tissue transplantation is not constrained by race or ethnicity; however, transplant success rates increase when organs are matched between members of similar race and ethnicity with similar genetic composition. Currently, ethnic minorities are in desperate need of more organ, eye and tissue donors as they represent over 58% of the national organ transplant waiting list, but make up only 33% of actual donors. John’s family has been notified about the organ transplants but has not yet met the recipients and does not know their ethnicity.
At the time of John’s death, hospital staff informed the family of his decision to be an organ donor. Being a highly emotional time, the family did not want to go through with the donation and just wanted to bring him home. However, since John had made the decision before his death, the family was obligated to go through with the organ donation. With the help of family, LifeCenter Northwest staff, and the grace of God we came to realize the benefits of organ donation and supported John’s decision and act of charity and compassion.
LifeCenter Northwest is an organization dedicated to saving lives through organ and tissue donation.
Northwest supports grieving families throughout the donation process and beyond. LifeCenter provides support on-site in hospitals and by phone as needed to educate families on the process and expectations associated with their loved one becoming a donor. They provide memory making opportunities before recovery occurs to acknowledge the generosity and selfless act of donation. The organization also pro-vides an aftercare program that includes 18-months of grief support, including personal calls and letters, counseling referrals and additional resources specific to the needs of the family. The Aftercare team coordinates communication between donor families and recipients and helps to honor donors through special projects and events such as local donation celebrations.
A Donation and Family Advocate from LifeCenter was at the hospital with the family from the time of John’s passing to the time he was taken to the operating room. This caring and compassionate staff person visited with all family members and listened as we shared memories, laughed and cried. She made special keepsakes such as ceramic hearts with John’s fingerprints, recordings of his heartbeat and a quilt with his handprint. The grand finale was a parade through the hospital with all staff lining the hallway as John was taken to the operating room to give his gift of life to others.
Thousands of patients still remain on the organ transplant waiting list, and currently there are more than 192 Montanans waiting for a life-saving organ transplant. Any-one can register their choice to be an organ, eye or tissue donor. Do not rule your-self out for age or health. There is no cost to the donor’s family for organ, eye and tissue donation. All costs related to donation are paid by the donation agency. You can register your choice by saying yes to donation when receiving or renewing your driver’s license or now at www.donatelifemt.org
As mentioned earlier, John’s family was reluctant, and some who themselves are registered donors started to reconsider their decision. However, today we can say we are so proud of John. His decision to be an organ donor illustrates his generosity and compassion for others and we will carry on his legacy by continuing our decision to be organ donors. Won’t you do the same?