Do you remember the first time you made a promise?You were probably very young. In theory, a promise is one of the simplest things a child learns. Unlike the gray areas surrounding good and bad, a promise is forthright and basic. You give someone your word that you’ll do something,and then you do it, no matter what. Easy.
Often times though, a promise is a whole lot more. A promise can bring an immense amount of work and anguish, and can take a lifetime to complete. It can mean more than anything in the world.
I’ll get back to promises later, but for now, consider the short amount of time you may have spent trying to remember your first promise.
In those fleeting moments, thousands upon thousands of people and their families agonizingly waited next to the phone for a call that may or may not come.
This April brings another annual National Organ Donor Awareness Month, and as the month silently passes, the issues surrounding organ donation continue to get little press.
The facts: only 38 percent of registered drivers in the United States are organ donors, according to a New York Times study. DonateLife-PA.org tracks Pennsylvania’s organ donation and provides information about the process of donating an organ. The site’s interactive map shows that less than 30 percent of Philadelphia County, the state’s most populous region, consents to organ donation. Scrolling over the state, the highest percentage in any county is around 56 percent. Overall, less than 43 percent of registered Pennsylvania drivers are organ donors.
All religious denominations allow organ donation. Worldwide, it’s considered immensely beneficial. Unfortunately, in this country, television and other popular culture has propagated some nasty myths. The largest is the idea that doctors won’t save those in an accident if they’re organ donors. This is almost too absurd to merit explanation. For a simple explanation: emergency team doctors and paramedics try to save people’s lives in the case of an emergency. Only after this team determines imminent death or pronounce the person dead do transplant doctors get involved.
Why do I care that six out of 10 Americans aren’t organ donors? Should anyone care that 18 people die every day because they don’t get the organ they need to survive, as thousands of others perish and keep their organs with them?
To answer those questions, I must return to promises. I recently made a big promise, and this article is my first step in keeping it.
The roots of mine started a few years ago. I was 16 years old, and I had just successfully completed my driving test. I was ecstatic and still a little frazzled when the older woman at the counter asked me if I wanted to be an organ donor. Unsure and a little caught-off-guard, I looked over my shoulder to my dad.
“Of course you want to. If you’re gone and can’t use them, then why shouldn’t you save a life?” he asked me.
I quickly agreed and signed the form.
At that point, I thought little of my actions. Being an organ donor seemed practical-it was the right thing to do; but it never had any personal meaning.
That all changed along with my promise during my junior year at WCU. I was quietly unpacking in my room, having just arrived home for winter break, when Dad came in.
We had lived together since my parents divorced when I was 13. He was always there for me-to go golfing, to talk or to tell jokes and share a laugh. I was 20 at the time, and our relationship had gone from father-son to that of best friends. By the serious look on his face I knew that something was wrong.
He simply said, “I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want you to worry during your finals, so you’re the last one to know.” He paused for a deep breath. “I have liver cancer.”
I couldn’t move or speak; I stood there stupidly in stunned silence.
The next few months were a blur. I worked full-time over break, but took a lot of days off for long hospital visits, checkups and surgeries. I returned to school, but as the months wore on the surgeries became more frequent. Finally, after all containment procedures failed, the only option left was a liver transplant. The doctors made it clear that he could live relatively comfortably for perhaps a few years in his current state, but that a transplant was a risky potential lease on a longer, healthier life. I felt relieved and nervous when he decided he’d do it.
A few months later he had the transplant. He recovered normally and his returning home on his own accord coincided with my coming back from college for the summer. Due to my unemployment, Dad and I spent about a month together. At the time, not having a job was hard, but looking back I can honestly say that those were some of the happiest days of my life. He felt better than he had in years. I remembered all the hard times we’d had when it was only him, my brother and I, and I felt grateful that he was still in my life.
These good times lasted about six weeks. That’s when things started to go wrong. Every week something new came up. The man who was the one constant figure in my life became the man who was never out of the hospital for more than two or three weeks. It was a ruptured artery here or his blood was too thin there. He was never healthy.
Every day I went to work, got off work, showered, drove to the hospital and stayed there until visiting hours were up. The next day went exactly the same-my entire summer before senior year was a lot like the movie Groundhog Day.
My promise progressed this past fall into winter. Describing what it’s like to watch someone slowly grow sicker with each passing day is extremely difficult.
He lost muscle and other healthy-looking tissue, but looked a lot fatter and weighed more because fluid collected around his stomach. His body often got more yellow as the liver slowly failed. He was in agony a lot of the time, and when I think about Thanksgiving and Christmas from this past year I remember how miserable he felt, but how my entire family tried to keep his spirits up. He tried to laugh and joke as he always had, but something was never quite right. This situation was made all the more difficult when the complaints to his doctors only yielded answers that he was fine and that he would soon return to “normal” despite the obvious.
As soon as I returned to school following winter break his liver began to fail rapidly. They instructed my family in mid-January that he would go back onto the transplant list, and that a new liver was the only thing that could save him.
A promise is the feeling of laying down every single night after spending 12 hours next to a hospital bed, only to not sleep because all you can do is stare at the telephone and hope it rings. A promise is watching your father become extremely confused because the toxins that his liver is supposed to take care of move to his brain. A promise is him then moving into a coma because his body couldn’t handle being awake.
A promise is doctors telling you that he has only 24-48 hours to live unless he gets a new liver, only to see him fight and live for a week. It’s watching a body deteriorate to the point that it’s barely recognizable. It’s hearing a doctor say that he’s been taken off the list, and that all hope is lost. It’s all of the things you realized you never got a chance to say, and it being too late.
And finally, a promise is saying goodbye.
I promised my parent, guardian, confidant and best friend that I would do everything in my power to change this broken system. Dad not only made me the man I am today, but he laid the foundation for the man I hope to someday become. He was the kindest, friendliest and funniest person I’ve ever met, and not an hour of the day goes by that I don’t think about him. He was 57.
I hope that as I start a lifetime of
fulfilling my promise, that perhaps those who read this can make a promise of their own. Become an organ donor. If you’re already an organ donor, get someone you know to become an organ donor. Perhaps most importantly, don’t allow stupid myths to be perpetuated-despite their illogicality, people actually believe them. Every year 10,000-12,000 eligible organ donors die, but only about 6,000 actually donate. The reasons for this are incomprehensible and unnecessary.
You can easily become an organ donor or gather more information at DonateLife-PA.org or your state’s Department of Transportation website.
Travis Pearson is a student at West Chester University. He can be reached at TP651537@wcupa.edu.