Through the kindness of strangers


I was taught to write thank-you notes for holiday presents and to those who had extended hospitality or other special kindnesses. It was good manners to do this, and my mother insisted. When my own children were growing up, I required the same courtesy, although notes sometimes were replaced with phone calls or e-mails.

This past year I wrote a special thank-you note. I didn’t know the recipient’s name or address. My letter went to LifeNet Health Tissue Development, which would forward my thanks, anonymously, to the family of a tissue donor. I am the fortunate recipient of an anterior tibial tendon that replaced the anterior cruciate ligament that had resided in my right knee since birth. Last year, gravity and torque in a slide down a ski slope took its toll on my native tissue.

For more than a century, bone, tissue, and corneas have been transplanted. According to Donate Life America, more than 1 million tissue transplants are done each year, and that number is on the rise. Following good tissue practices enforced by the Food and Drug Administration, tissue and bone banks across the country provide allografts for various surgical procedures for orthopedics, neurosurgery, gynecology, cardiac surgery, burn care, and many other conditions.

Organ, eye, and tissue transplantation is a complex world built on one simple, fundamental concept—donating life. Through the generosity of the public, hundreds of thousands of Americans are enjoying restored health and prolonged life. But many are still waiting. Although each year about 14,000 donors make possible 28,000 transplants, more than 117,000 people are on a transplant waiting list. Donate Life America reports that every 10 minutes, another name is added to the national organ transplant waiting list, and an average of 18 people die every day from the lack of available organs for transplantation. Organ-donation awareness and support have reached historic levels. Yet only about one-third of the public knows how to go about becoming a donor.

National Donate Life Month

Donate Life America was founded in 1992 by the United Network for Organ Sharing, and later became an independent nonprofit organization. Members include national organizations and state teams dedicated to motivating more Americas to register as organ, eye, and tissue donors. Their efforts are helping to raise performance of donor registries and to develop and disseminate multimedia donor education programs. Started a decade ago, National Donate Life Month, celebrated in April, creates momentum through education and community activities to encourage organ, eye, and tissue donation. It’s also a time to celebrate the lives saved. Throughout April, you may see a unique white flag flying that says, “Donate Life,” which celebrates the entire transplant community—individuals and families who’ve been touched as donors or recipients of transplants. The special flags call attention to the importance of considering becoming a donor and supporting donation.

For as long as I can remember, I have been registered as an organ donor. A small red heart adorns my driver’s license with the words “Organ Donor.” My family members are all registered organ donors. For years, my children accompanied me to candlelight vigils celebrating courageous organ-donor families. They know the importance of the gift of life. Most likely, you too have shared information, answered questions, and registered yourself and family as organ, eye, and tissue donors. Like me, you also may be on the bone-marrow donor registry.

The public can learn the facts about donation and link to state registries by accessing the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website on organ and tissue donation and transplantation at www.organdonor.gov/index.html. One organ donor may save eight lives; a tissue donor may help as many as fifty. As the saying goes, “Don’t take your organs to heaven. Heaven knows we need them here.”

Testing out my reconstructed knee last month, I was fearful of falling, despite the brace that hugged my knee with taut Velcro straps. After the first successful run down the same slope that had landed me a toboggan ride to the mountain medical clinic last year, I gave a sigh of relief. In moments, though, my thoughts turned to the donor who’d made that run possible. While a tendon transplant may seem trivial, it’s not. For me, it restored the joy of skiing with my family—a gift for which I will be eternally grateful.


  • I greatly appreciate your focus on organ and tissue donation. In September 2012, one of our nursing students, Meghan Herndon was tragically injured in a scooter accident. She received a traumatic brain injury and died eleven days after the accident. Meghan’s parents ultimately gave the gift of life by donating her organs/tissue. This tragedy has led to a series of events led by our Student Nurses Association highlighting donor awareness on campus/community.

  • KathieVestal
    April 4, 2013 7:42 am

    Pam…great to read such a wonderful story and appreciate the donors who make miracles happen…glad to hear you are doing well k

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