As another organ donation day approaches, I wrote this on the 21st March 2015, while Indians especially Maharashtrians were celebrating Gudi Padwa.
This day happen to be a special day for me too – My wedding anniversary. My wife, had she been around, and I would have celebrated our 23rd wedding day.
Probably a meal in a restaurant, a gift of flowers, an inexpensive piece of jewelry would have been our way to commemorate.
However life changed for us on another fateful, significant day in 2008; the day she was born became also the day she was struck down. A hitherto undetected aneurysm in her brain which chose that very day to strike. That morning she left home seemingly hale and hearty and by the evening was attached to a ventilator, on a hospital bed. The transition from an active person to a comatose brain stem damaged vegetative state was probably very rapid. Almost like in road accident where a living breathing person changes into a mangled mass in seconds.
Fast forwarding; I recall our children and me watching in helplessly at the hospital, as a ventilator hissed; our daughter beside her bedside, imploring her inert body, to open her eyes… to say something. While our son, tearless, with a dazed expression on his face, a red windcheater donned to counter the chill brought on by shock.
Next morning, the feeling of futility of hope and acceptance of her passing was apparent in my daughter’s comment to me- “I do not want my Mamma to live like this. She should go if he wants her!”
Still when the transplant volunteers broached the subject of organ donation; our first reaction was perhaps outrage- How dare they?
The hope that there might be still some chance; maybe she would miraculously open her eyes.
The next thought, prompted by the Robin Cook book and movie “Coma” – hope no one is orchestrating this just because a particular organ is required.
Again revisiting the thought of donation- but what will relatives, friend say……..?
Finally the thought that we, only the immediate family, would discuss and decide.
A brief discussion between the children and me- My daughter, then 15 years old, saying if it helps someone we should go ahead and agree.
My son, said “I think didi is right- if we cremate Maa, everything will turn to ashes. Let us help somebody!
With the immense sense of loss mingling with pride; in that brief window of opportunity, I signed the consent form agreeing to donate her organs; whatever was required. My wife’s Kidneys, liver and corneas were removed and went to recipients. We had never discussed this eventuality and yet it just seemed the right thing to do. Nor did we ever regret that decision.
The heart, bone marrow, lungs and skin were then not sought. Today a few more years down the line, many of these other organs get connected with recipients.
As time and again, various national & regional newspapers featured the concepts of organ donation and seeded the thoughts in their readers minds; they featured a number of stories including human interest ones with the happy recipients… their families who has got a new lease of life.
I recall the stab of pain felt each time when a donor got hardly a mention. When my family was invited to a felicitation function early next year, we had carried framed photograph of the donor to emphasize and introduce the person at the felicitation, who in her death gave a gift of life to a few.
We made a suggestion, which was accepted, to show a picture of the donors during the function to comfort donor families that their absent family member was also part of the felicitation. This has become a feature of the functions thereafter.
Over a period of time, many newspapers have balanced the human interest stories and featured donors at times and recipients with their happiness on being given a new lease of life at others.
We see that the US National Kidney Foundation has periodic newsletters which allow donor families to commemorate the memory of their loved ones. The heartfelt gratitude professed by some recipients for their anonymous donors in these newsletters also surely would help many in finding closure.
Statistics show that our country is way behind countries like the US in organ donations from brain stem death cases.
However, even though growing marginally, there has been a steady growth of organ donations in the urban areas as the awareness increases.
Better equipped hospitals, a larger cadre of committed volunteers who very gently and tactfully approach the stricken families also have helped.
Celebrity endorsements like the one by actors like Aamir Khan and Sharad Ponkshe, who literally wore their hearts on their sleeves on the 2014 Maharashtra Organ Donation Day seem to have helped awareness of the existing need. The donation statistics maintained by the Government bodies would surely point to how useful their Brand Ambassadorship has been.
One other suggestion, Government provides tax exemption for financial donations to registered charities under sections of the IT act. Now surely the authorities would not like to quantify financial value of a cornea or a liver or for that matter a kidney. But perhaps the authorities may examine and consider full exemption to tax for legal earnings to the donors legal heirs for the year the donor for the year when the donations take place. Just a thought…! How much revenue would the Government lose?
Passage of time dulls the pain the families feel, while the pride in having helped other humans only gets enhanced. Hope more and more such donations take place.