“Give from the heart” is a common message we hear every holiday, but there's also a push to start taking that phrase literally. Friday is not only Valentine’s Day, it’s also National Donor Day, covering everything from blood to tissue to organ donation.
It's not a coincidence that they fall on the same day. We're so quick to hand out hearts, how about we "get real" and connect that to a needed conversation on the heart? Twelve more people are added to the country's organ transplant waiting list every two hours and it already has more than 121,165 people listed. By the end of each day, an average of 18 people die waiting for a transplant.
Just one organ donor has the potential to save the lives of eight other people and improve the life of as many as 50 others. Latest data show 94 percent of Americans are proponents, but in Iowa, just over 80 percent of adults are registered and it's much lower in Nebraska.
"In many cases it's just that people don't take the time to designate that or there are some other concerns that need to be addressed and so it's just having that conversation with them and talking it through with their family and making those wishes known," says Lisa Carmichael, a Donate Life Nebraska volunteer.
"It's something that is very difficult to pray for yourself in that situation because you know what it means to another family when you're on that list and waiting for a heart, you know someone else has to die in order for you to live and that's very challenging."
Donate Life Nebraska is trying to connect with minorities, who generally are less likely to be registered. Transplants do not need to happen among the same race, but blood type and antibodies need to match up and that match is more likely with someone of the same ethnic background.
Those over age 66 are the least likely to be registered. They likely remember when transplants first became common and that was a time when they weren't as successful as they are now. There's also a myth that organs "go bad," but people in their 90s have been credited with saving lives thanks to their organ donation.
What can we do? The first step is to pull out your driver's license. If you're a registered donor in Nebraska, there will be a heart on the bottom while in Iowa it will say "Donor: Y." If you don't know, you can head to the Donate Life Nebraska website (donatelifenebraska.com) and register. It takes less than two minutes.
As many celebrate love and the chance to share our lives with others, that sentiment takes on a much deeper meaning for many metro families. Jack Kouth worked as a hospital chaplain for years, comforting others in saying goodbye to loved ones. It became personal when his 22-year-old son died following brain surgery. Just days before, Tim had opened up to his dad about wanting to be an organ donor.
"That gives me pride in a parent knowing that he didn't live just a self-centered life, but he lived for others and he gave himself for others and when you don't have any other options than death, it's pretty bleak, but if in facing death you can see the possibility of helping others, that's a comfort, that's a help. It eases the pain."
Jack says in death, Tim saved the lives of three others.
If you're a registered donor, your family does not have to give consent for your organs to be donated, but like Jack said, it eases the pain for a family to have known that's what you really wanted.