By Deena L. Benjamin, DeVry University
I do not know you; all I know is what I have learned over the last 24 hours of caring for you. You were always there to help others. You had a kind and gentle soul. Your sense of humor had those around you always laughing. Even in your death, amidst the tears, you continue to produce smiles that fill the room. This is what I've learned about you, told to me by your loving family and friends who must let you go. You have chosen to become a hero in death, by providing life to others through organ donation.
You are a hero, lying in a hospital bed, shrouded by the dimming light as the sun sets over the horizon. There is peace here even with occasional beeping of the monitor and the frequent humming of the breathing machine. Your family comes and goes and they sit with you to reminisce about your life and to honor you being a hero. I can see the kindness on your face and the strength you once had in life. If you did not have the large dressing around your head and the cuts and bruises from the accident, no one would know that doctors had declared you legally dead and your wishes were to be an organ donor.
My job now is to find good caring homes for your heart, lungs, liver, pancreas and kidneys. As a nurse, I have to change direction from the typical role of caring for you as a patient, to caring for the organs that are going to save the life of another. It's a task I take seriously. It is my passion to save lives that drives me to keep going, no matter how long the hours, lack of food, or tough setbacks. The gift you and your family have so unselfishly given to others pushes me through whatever it takes so other families don't experience the loss yours is feeling. The goal is to improve the function of your organs so they can provide life to ones who need your help to survive.
I'll order the many tests needed to evaluate the function of your organs. A technician will be up shortly to look at your heart with an echocardiogram. They will place a probe on your chest to see how your heart is beating and if the valves are working properly. A doctor will come soon; using a camera he will look at your lungs and make sure there is no infection or injury that would make them unsafe for recipients. After all the evaluating, assessing and talking with transplant doctors, I'll look at the names of the potential people you have the opportunity to save. I wonder about the nervous smiles and the tears of joy that you will now provide to people who have never met you.
With tissue in hand, I walk quietly with your loved ones to the doors of surgery, as your family says their last goodbyes, I hug them and thank them for the ultimate gifts you are about to give to others, and I promise to take good care of you and provide the respect you so deserve. As I push you into the bright and bustling operating room the crowd quickly comes over to help escort you to the table. The surgeons and staff work in unison to expertly prepare for the final step in your process. When all are ready, the surgeons ask the anesthesiologist to turn off the breathing machine and medications that have been providing life to your organs. One by one the organs are removed and are carefully packaged and hurriedly headed out the door to a sick patient entering an operating room similar to yours.
At this point I grow weary about the final task I have with you. I have spent the last 24 hours getting to know you and your family and have evaluated your organs. I then quietly watch your heart beat for the last time. The time has come to say goodbye and as I help zip the body bag, tears start to form in my eyes. I tell you how great of a job you did and how proud I am of you. You will always be a true hero in my heart, and the hearts of the people whose lives you saved today.