Dear Heart: My Driver’s License Speaks

Tucked under the signature of my Florida driver’s license are two words in blood-red that indicate that I am an organ donor. 

Blog_Marians FL License_4x2_300

This means that if I were in a fatal crash, my kidneys, liver, lungs, corneas—even my heart could be harvested for transplantation. Harvested and transplanted, two very agricultural-sounding terms for the brutal evisceration that must transpire before another human being can benefit from these vital organs.

via Goodreads
Image via Goodreads

Eleanor Vincent describes the impact of such a supreme gift from a mother’s point of view in her poignant memoir, Swimming with Maya: A Mother’s Story. When her 19-year-old daughter is left in a coma induced by a crushing fall from a horse, Eleanor struggles to make a heart-rending decision. What should be the fate of Maya’s healthy organs? Especially her heart. In the end, Maya’s heart is given to middle-aged Chilean businessman and father of two young children. Along this bumpy ride to full acceptance, Maya’s mother, whose husband no longer played a role in her daughter’s life, begins to think of Fernando, the heart recipient, as her daughter’s adopted father, “a kind of benign benefactor.”

Without telling anyone . . . I appoint Fernando the titular head of my family—a family that has shattered on the physical plane but one that I reconstitute in the ghost realm of my imagination. Seeing Maya’s continuing life through transplantation offers me a spiritual replacement for the searing physical absence of my daughter. She is dead, yes, but not entirely. Fernando experiences her vitality. As the home of Maya’s heart, he becomes a father figure for my daughter. As long as I see it this way, I don’t have to conduct the tug of war between my pain and his healing all alone. (216)

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via Goodreads
Image via Goodreads

Like author Eleanor Vincent, surgeon and writer Richard Selzer describes the sense of comfort the emphatic, but soothing, lub-dup, lub-dup conveyed to the ear of the fictional Hannah, who made an equally heart-wrenching decision to donate her husband Sam‘s heart so that its recipient Henry Pope can live. As she lowers her ear to Henry’s chest, she senses her husband’s presence:

She could have stayed there forever, bathed in the sound and touch of that heart. Thus she lay, until her ear and the chest of the man had fused into a single bridge of flesh across which marched, one after the other, in cadence, the parade of that mighty heart. (27)

Clearly, organ donation of a loved one is dear, costly in both physical and emotional terms.

The designation “organ donor” has been on my driver’s license for a long time. I am not young, like Maya, or even in early middle-age, like Sam, So, I ponder, if donation became an option, would medical people even want my organs? Would my husband sign the papers to authorize such a donation? Now he says “Okay” to the kidneys, lungs, and corneas and possibly other tissues. But No! to my heart.

Your heart belongs to me, he says.

The case, apparently, is closed.

Do you know someone who has participated in organ donation either as a donor or as a recipient?  Have you? Other thoughts?

*  *  *  *  *

I’m celebrating my blog-i-versary. One year ago yesterday my first blog post was published. Thank you, thank you for making this first year so rewarding and memorable!

Thank you, dear reader!
Thank you, dear reader!
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29 thoughts on “Dear Heart: My Driver’s License Speaks

  1. Thanks for the reminder to others to make this happen. In my nursing career, as well as personal life I have seen this over and over. The most touching, I think, was a woman of a nineteen y o boy who was almost killed in a car wreck. Later, after surgery, pronounced brain dead. His mom had held his hand every step of the way. They let her hold his hand during the heart harvesting surgery, as well. Another young man lives. That’s got to be the ultimate sacrifice a family member can make.

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    1. You have a unique perspective as a nurse, seeing examples of this “ultimate sacrifice” actually taking place. Just a guess, but I imagine your silent presence on the periphery was comforting in some way. Actually, I really can’t imagine such extreme emotion right now.

      Thanks for being the first to comment today, Susan.

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  2. My TDL reads the same and I too, have wondered if there may be an age when organs cannot be donated. I have imagined that my kidneys are my age, my liver perhaps younger (as I take no regular medications), but perhaps my heart is the youngest of all. Thoughtful post, Marian.

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  3. CONGRATULATION on your 1-year anniversary!

    And THANK YOU for broaching the ever-important topic of organ donation. As an Illinois resident, those of us who are donors have a RED state of Illinois emblem with the word “Donor” on it, on the right hand side. It’s in plain sight — evident — in the event of an emergency.

    Nicely, on the back our Illinois licenses there’s also have a designated place for our Blood Type RH Factor, and Medical Info/Living Will.

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    1. Florida needs to step-up and supply information like your state of Illinois does: Blood type, medical info, and other specifications. It seems such ready access would save valuable time, even a life, in the event of an emergency. As always, I am thankful for your consistent presence on my blog, Laurie.

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  4. Ha! When I first read “blog-aversary” I translated into “blog-averse-ary” and felt a flicker of recognition. Not that I’m actually *averse* to it, just lose my blogging inspiration from time to time. However, congratulations and kudos! On the one-year mark, and the willingness to gift your organs!
    Q.

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  5. Congratulations on your first “blog-a-versary!” My father had wanted to donate his organs, but they were not in good shape by the time he died. I think, perhaps, some might have been donated for medical research, but I’m not certain.

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  6. Congratulations on your blogaversary! I’m also glad you addressed the topic of organ donation. I signed up to be an organ donor when I first got my license and haven’t really thought about it since then, but your post made me reflect on how comforting I find the idea that my death could provide life for someone else. Thanks for this and all your other insights!

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  7. A creative and important topic, Marian. I enjoyed the way you weaved other writers into your own thoughts on the subject. A powerful gift. And congrats on your 1 year! Mine is coming up next month. Time flies…

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    1. Wow, you seem like a seasoned blogger to me–just one year too! I guess we both had to catch up real fast. I’m glad you enjoyed the topic. A memoir I just read, an essay I remembered reading long ago, and my driver’s license, all part of the weave. Thanks for noticing and commenting, Patti.

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  8. Happy First blogaversary, Marian! Eleanor’s heartrending memoir, SWIMMING WITH MAYA,is a powerful testament to the benefits of organ donation. Thank you for highlighting this important topic in this thought-provoking post.

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    1. Eleanor is a wonderful writer, isn’t she? I would read anything she wrote simply because of her writing style and descriptive detail. And her memoir, which could have been so disheartening because of the theme, actually becomes a heart-warming paean to organ donation, her enormous gift. Thanks for checking in today and posting, Kathy.

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  9. Congratulations, Marian. Happy One Year Anniversary!
    Your posts offer so much, and I appreciate your perspectives. Thanks for the introductions to these wonderful books, combinations of hurt and hope. I, too, have a heart on my driver’s license.

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    1. Writing about books gives me a reason to read them so maybe I have an ulterior motive.–ha! Another one like this is coming up in a week or two.

      Like you, I like to be entertained and also learn something when I read, something I also find in your blog posts. Thank you, Marylin.

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  10. Congrats on the anniversary of blogging. I’m happy I discovered it via Shirley Hershey Showalter’s blog. Organ donation is a topic of great interest to me. My license also has my desire noted though I wonder how valuable aged organs are. (Notice I didn’t say “old”.) Three years ago our 35 year old son (father of 4) suffered renal failure. We were thrilled and grateful that his wife was a match and donated one of her kidneys. How amazing that a few hours following surgery his numbers were improving. It was quite a journey, and we continue to thank God they are both doing well.

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    1. Thank you, Ruthie. I am thankful too that you discovered my blog. I love the story of your son and daughter-in-law being a perfect match. Of course, you are referring to their tissue match for the kidney transplant, but one might say they are a match made in heaven.

      I like that you refer to these organs as “valuable and aged” rather than “old,” a nice distinction. Again, thank you for re-visiting my blog today. Feel free to add your anecdotes. They are always welcome.

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  11. My best friend’s mother is alive thanks to an organ transplant. I don’t think any of us will ever forget that she is alive at the expense of someone’s grief. We are humbled and grateful.

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    1. I am surprised how many of us know people who are organ donors or recipients. The husband of one of my cousins received a liver transplant many years ago. His life expectancy was 20 years or less at the time, but he is still alive, thriving even. I have heard that tissues of the liver can regenerate themselves. Good from bad, the cycle of life, I guess you could say.

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