What Can You Say?

By Deena L. Benjamin, DeVry University

“What can you say?” That's the question I hear from nearly every patient I meet after their life has been saved or enhanced with an organ transplant. They are overcome with a profound gratitude, but don't know how to express it.

Shall I just say “thank you”? It just doesn't seem sufficient. Those are the same words I give to the man who holds open an elevator door for me. Send a thank you card? I pick those cards up at the card shop for the lady who feeds my cat while I'm on vacation. The same card hardly seems appropriate for the person who saved my life. A gift or a trinket to symbolize my gratitude? But how will I ever find something perfect enough, that doesn't trivialize the profoundness of this gift?

Certainly, “thank you”, cards and gifts are the traditional ways we express gratitude in our culture. We also “pay back” favors that are made to us. If your neighbor helps fix your car, you're quite likely to help him with his lawn work. Is this a “favor” that can be paid back? Yes, maybe it can. But maybe in more unconventional ways. A profound life-saving gift calls for unique life-giving expressions of gratitude. Here are a few ideas:

         Respect it. Take good care of it. Don't abuse it. This just shows good respect to the person who saved and enhanced your life. See your doctors regularly. Refill your medications faithfully. And each morning, and each evening, when you swallow your medicines use that moment to remember your organ donor and send up a thought or a prayer for them. Exercise. Eat healthfully to nourish your body, not to overwhelm it. Sleep well. Respect your transplant, your body and your donor. This is an expression of gratitude.

         Enjoy it. This is why your donor did what they did. They want you to have a good life. What dreams and visions did you have for your life if you were able to have a transplant? Reconnect with old friends. Attend your family reunion. Cherish watching your kids and grandkids reach special milestones. Learn to do something new—a new language, to play piano, or pottery. Take a special vacation, dedicating it to your donor. Joy is found in life's big and little events. Watch the sunrise. Your donor did not want for you to be a bump on a log. Set aside your guilt, and enjoy yourself. Please. In doing so, you will thank them.

         Pay it forward. Maybe you can't “pay back” this gift to your donor. But you can pay it forward to others in need. Think of the metaphor of a small stone being dropped in a smooth pond. It creates a beautiful ripple. Your donor began a beautiful ripple effect in your life. Don't let it end. Goodness and beauty and generosity perpetuate itself. Let it continue. Volunteer in your community, at a school, a senior center or homeless shelter. Speak out about organ donation, remembering that there are over 100,000 people just like you still waiting for their life-saving organ transplant.