People, Places and Things

by Joe Martin

The Evening Sun
Saturday December 21, 1996

Four days from now will be Christmas. A time when Christianity celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. It's also a time for giving, and what could be more appropriate than giving a part of one's body that another may live?

Charles Dickens' Christmas Carol teaches us that giving is a blessed way to celebrate Christmas. Well, what you are about to read, I think, is the true essence of the spirit of Christmas.

Last month I received a letter from Faith Taylor of Horsham, PA Just north of Philly. I've held it until today because I think it makes the perfect Christmas story. I quote the letter in its entirety:

"Dear Mr. Martin: Thank you for writing the two articles in 1992 regarding Paul and Dorothy Shriver's decision to allow their son's vital organs to be transplanted after he died following an automobile accident. I was given the articles just recently and I cherish them.

I am the recipient of Doug's kidney and pancreas. My life has been blessed since that tragic day for Doug's family.

When I was in my twenties, I already showed signs of complications from diabetes. I had been told that I could be blind by age 40 and on dialysis by age 30. Although I tried to stop the complications from this disease by eating well, exercising and following doctors' orders, they happened.

I was 27 when I started with the laser surgeries on my eyes to prevent blindness, and around that time I was told it would be about two years until I needed dialysis. Everything was going as predicted, blindness and dialysis.

At the same time, my beloved husband of seven years was dying of leukemia. We had been married for three years when he was diagnosed with leukemia. Although we tried everything possible to save his life, he died in 1988 at age 27. My heart was truly broken and I thought I would never recover.

In January of 1992, I toured the dialysis unit of a local hospital with my doctor to prepare for the day I would begin coming three times a week. I did not know how I would continue to work full time and keep up my routine but I would figure that out when the time came.

I also thought about my eyesight. How would I live without my sight? I enjoy all of God's beautiful creations. I love to draw and paint. So much would be missing without my sight. The thoughts were almost too much to bear. I went on, trying not to dwell on my health problems.

That very night I heard the most amazing thing from my doctor for the first time. Have you ever considered having a kidney and pancreas transplant, he asked. After some discussion, I decided I was going to visit a hospital in Philadelphia and see what this was all about.

In February 1992, I started seeing every type of doctor that exists to be evaluated for the surgery. In March 1992, I was placed on the waiting list and carried a beeper whenever I left my home. I tried not to think too much about the fact that someone had to die for my transplant to take place.

On July 6, 1992, I was called to the hospital and prepped for surgery. A short time earlier, the family of Douglas Shriver made the decision to donate the organs of their 27 year old son and brother. The morning of July 7, 1992, Doug's pancreas and one of his kidneys immediately took over where my body was failing.

His pancreas has produced the perfect amount of insulin and kept me from daily insulin shots. His kidney has purified my blood and kept me off dialysis now for four years and four months. I have had no further complications from diabetes since the date of my transplant. I have 20/20 vision (with glasses for hereditary nearsightedness). My ophthalmologist told me last week that because my eyes have been so stable for the past four years, she doubts I will have any more problems.

My life has been so blessed because of the miracle of organ donation. As you can imagine, I never dreamed I would be so healthy at the age of 35. I work full time in an insurance company and hope to become a transplant coordinator for this same Company.

To reach this goal, I am taking college courses in nursing part time. My new cause, organ donation, has kept me very busy also. I speak to many groups about life after transplantation. I also organize an all day conference attended by about 400 recipients bi-annually that keeps us current on transplant issues such as medications, insurance and keeping healthy through exercise and diet. We also have a session on how to write to say thank-you to your donor family.

In August of this year, about 1200 recipients of life saving organs gathered in Salt Lake City, Utah for the 1996 U.S. Transplant Games. It was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. The teams from all over the U.S. were proving that organ donation works.

There were very healthy athletes competing and others who just wanted to be there and meet fellow transplant recipients and donor families. We were blessed by the presence of 60-75 donor families who were honored with a Gift of Life medal.

Additionally, there was a quilt, called "Patches of Love." Each patch was given by a donor family to honor their loved one. Some had a picture of the donor or a poem about the donor. I trained for many months before the games and won a bronze medal in the 1K bike race. It is so great to be healthy.

I am sorry this is so long but I wanted you to know how much I appreciate what the Shriver family has done. My thoughts and prayers are continually with Doug and his family.

Thank you for your interest and care.

Forever grateful,

Faith Taylor"

After reading Faith's letter, I looked up those two 1992 columns. Doug had lived with his Mom and Dad on a farm in Adams County a couple of miles outside of Gettysburg when he died in an automobile accident. Besides Faith's new gift of life, a gentleman in Philadelphia received Doug's other kidney, and he too was off dialysis. Doug's heart was beating in the chest of a then-46 year old machinist in Delaware. And a cornea transplant brought sight to a 31 year old patient who had been sightless. I can't think of any gift greater than those.

We have a bumper sticker that pretty well sums up Faith's and our opinion of the organ donor program. It reads: "Don't take your organs to Heaven. Heaven knows we need them here."

Merry Christmas everyone, and remember to sign up to be an organ donor. And don't forget "after the verb 'To Love', 'To Help' is the most beautiful verb in the world. Merry Christmas. Thank you, Faith.

Pax vobiscum.

This article appears on TransWeb by permission of the author, Joe Martin. All rights reserved.

Return to Faith Taylor's story or read Joe Martin's other articles, Three Magnificient Examples of Love" and "The Rest of a Remarkable Story on Love" (three weeks later).