April is National Donate Life Month

Joy McCarthy, of Huntingtown, knew her husband, Kris, was an organ donor. They had discussed it. In 2012, at age 45, the father of three young children died suddenly of a massive heart attack. Joy McCarthy honored her husband’s wishes.

“It is hard at that moment when you’ve just lost a loved one,” said McCarthy, “but it was a great comfort in the sad days that followed to know his beautiful blue eyes are helping two people to see and his tissue is helping someone else to walk.”

Organ donor Kris McCarthy pictured here on vacation with wife, Joy, and children, from left, Carly, Cole and Carson.

McCarthy got a thank you note from the woman whose husband received tissue to help rebuild his foot. “It means a lot to me to know that part of him is still going strong,” said McCarthy, who serves on the Donor Council at CalvertHealth Medical Center where she works as a physical therapist.

For Krista and Jeff French, of Mechanicsville, organ donation has a different meaning. “My husband’s life was saved by a 23-year-old man when he received a heart transplant on March, 19, 2015. [The donor’s] parents did not know [their son] was designated as a donor but they are so proud of him for making that kind and generous decision,” said French.

Heart transplant recipient Jeff French and daughter, Brittany, at her high school graduation two months after his transplant.

“We celebrate [the date of the transplant] every year,” she said. “Because of that young man my husband got to see our daughter graduate high school and go on to college. He got to hold his son’s first child.”

At one of her husband’s checkups, French recorded her husband’s heartbeat and put the tape into a blessing bear as a gift to the parents of his donor. “They carry it with them all the time,” she said. The donor’s father told French, that his son’s “heart lives and gives love every day.”

As a Donate Life ambassador, French said she attends community events to share her family’s story on the importance of organ donation in order for others to make an informed decision. She also supports people who are waiting for a transplant like a six-year-old girl who is waiting for a liver and a local man who needs a kidney.

Promoting Organ and Tissue Donor Awareness

Every 10 minutes a name is added to the national organ transplant waiting list. More than 123,000 men, women and children currently need lifesaving organ transplants.

More common are tissue transplants with more than 1 million transplants—including bone, cornea, heart valve, skin, tendon and vein—performed nationally each year. These tissue transplants contribute to restoring vision, healing burn victims and helping individuals with neurological and orthopedic conditions. One tissue donor has the potential to enhance the lives of 50 people.

CalvertHealth Medical Center Coordinator for Organ Donation Rebecca Lee is working to bring awareness of the need for tissue and organ donation.

Lee said CalvertHealth partners with the Living Legacy Foundation to provide education about tissue and organ donation to the local community through its mobile health center, urgent care facilities, physician practices and special events held during “Donate Life Month” in April.

“Our Donor Council consists of staff members throughout the hospital who have a passion to learn and educate others on donation. Many of them have personal stories that have touched their own lives,” Lee said.

To become an organ and tissue donor, register online at www.donatelifemaryland.org or sign up through the Motor Vehicle Administration when you applying or renewing your driver’s license, and, share your intentions with your family and loved ones.

SIDEBAR: Frequently Asked Questions

Who can be a donor?

People of all ages and medical histories should consider themselves potential donors. Your medical condition at the time of death will determine what can be donated.

Does my religion support organ, eye and tissue donation?

All major religions support organ donation as a final act of compassion and generosity.

Is there a cost to be an organ, eye and tissue donor?

There is no cost to the family or estate for donation.

Does donation affect funeral plans?

An open casket is possible for organ, eye and tissue donors.

Does registering as a donor change my patient care?

No. Your life always comes first. Doctors work hard to save every patient’s life, but sometimes there is a complete and irreversible loss of brain function. The patient is declared clinically and legally dead. Only then is donation an option.

Does my social and/or financial status play any part in whether or not I will receive an organ if ever I need one?

No. A national system matches available organs from the donor with people on the waiting list based on blood type, body size, how sick they are, donor distance, tissue type and time on the list. Race, income, gender, celebrity and social status are never considered.

Source: Donate Life Maryland