My Story (and I’m sticking to it)

A little over a year ago, I posted an entry called “I’m a Volunteer!” detailing the beginning of my journey as a volunteer for Donate Life AZ. It’s been really gratifying to be able to help at registration events over the past 13 months or so.

Early this year, I stepped up my game a bit by going through the Volunteer Speakers workshop. Since then, I have told my story to a graduating class of nurses at Tucson Medical Center and visited three lawmakers (two state Senators and a state Representative) at the annual Donate Life Day at the Capitol.

Since April is National Donate Life Month, I was going to tell you about what I’m doing this month to promote organ donation, but then I thought it might be better just to tell my “story” – how I came to be involved with the Donor Network and why I do what I do. So here it is:

My story began in January 2010, when my son-in-law was admitted to the hospital after arriving by train in Tucson. He and my daughter were living in Illinois at the time, and they were having issues that both felt would be resolved better if he came back to Tucson for a while. One of those issues was his drug use. Unfortunately, he apparently used some meth on the train, and within hours of his arrival in Tucson he had a stroke. I became involved as my daughter’s surrogate until she could get here from Illinois, and of course I supported her and did what I could after she arrived.

While in the hospital, he suffered a second stroke, and at that point he became eligible to be a donor. I certainly didn’t know, and I don’t think anyone else knew, that he had registered as an organ donor years before then. But it made perfect sense to all of us, and he was able to donate his left lung (even though he was a smoker), his liver (in spite of being a drinker) and both his kidneys (even though he drank, smoked, and abused drugs).

Point One: Never assume that your organs, eyes (corneas), and tissues will be unusable. It’s all done on a case-by-case basis, with on-the-spot evaluations of the potential for donations. (Point One-A: Never assume you’re too old. The oldest donor I’m aware of was 94.)

Because of my son-in-law’s selfless act, four people’s lives were saved that day. Additionally, at least six people were directly influenced to register as donors – my three daughters, my other son-in-law, my wife, and me. I know there have been others, but these six I can vouch for personally.

Chapter Two began in November 2012, when my wife was killed in a car crash in Pinal County, outside of Oracle, AZ. She and I were working on some rental property in Oracle that day, and one of our tenants asked if she wanted to go for a short ride in his sandrail (dune buggy) to see how it was working. Toni was literally bouncing on the balls of her feet and grinning as widely as she could as she accepted the invitation. She and the tenant hopped in, buckled up, and drove off for what I *thought* was going to be a short shakedown ride.

She never came back.

She was airlifted to the University of Arizona Medical Center (now Banner – University Medical Center where the ER and surgical teams did all they could to save her. Unfortunately, her brain trauma was too great, and she became a donor about 48 hours after the crash. She donated her liver to a gentleman in Phoenix.

Point Two: You may be concerned that your medical care might be curtailed, modified, or otherwise changed if the hospital staff knows you’re a donor. In the first place, they don’t know. It isn’t until a person is declared deceased that organ donation is even considered. But even if they *did* know, they would act no differently toward their patients. Toni was given something (I don’t know what, exactly) that ultimately prevented her from donating any of her tissues. And her treatment and subsequent care lasted to the point where her kidneys shut down and were not suitable for donation.

Donate Life AZ has been extremely good to me. In fact, just the other day I received an invitation to attend the annual donor-hero recognition ceremony at Banner – UMC. It’s a chance to honor Toni’s life, her death, and her decision to donate. In return, I have chosen to help spread the word about donation as much as I can.

So I have two requests of you, Dear Reader. The first is, if you aren’t already a registered donor, please become one. Register in your home state, and if you spend a significant amount of time in a different state (perhaps as a snowbird?), register there, too! There is not (yet) a national donor registry, and if you aren’t “at home” when you die, your donation decision may be for nothing. Less than 2% of all deaths develop into donations – please make it as easy as possible for yours to be one of them!

The second request is this: In addition to making this decision for yourself (and letting people know about it, of course!), please decide what you would do in the event – that I hope never happens to you – a child of yours dies. I read recently of a child who received a heart transplant at 6 days of age. That donor heart didn’t come from an adult. It came from another child, whose grieving family decided to help others live through the donation of their child’s organs.

If you’re willing to help others in this way, the love and gratitude will come back – if not to you, then to your family – manyfold.


Toni Stalker (3/21/53 – 11/26/12)

4 Comments on “My Story (and I’m sticking to it)

  1. I miss Toni. :-(. She was a beautiful and wonderful woman.

    And I’m glad that I’m a registered donor. I’ve talked about it a couple of times to coworkers when Banner puts out emails about becoming an organ donor. And, I’m glad that you know that UMC is now Banner University Med Center Tucson. LOL.

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