For twelve years I have been working as part of an expert organ donation team. This is the life saving transplant recovery team, the team that works with the families that save the lives of the people you hear about on the news.
Many times I have had the honor of trying to support parents through the loss of their child. On this day and night and morning the doctors had documented with careful tests over time that there was no blood flow to any part of this little baby’s brain. His body was supported by technology only. His chest rose and fell in breaths provided by a machine. Because the oxygen was sent into his lungs through the machine his heart was getting oxygen and would continue to beat. Another machine kept his body warm because there was no life in the brain to control that. Medications ran through his veins because there was no life in the brain to maintain the blood pressure. Once mom and dad understood that he had died the machines would have been turned off. But first we talked to the parents about organ donation. Momma became hopeful that her son could be an organ donor. This baby had a chance to be a donor because he was brain dead. While we coordinate all the details the technology stays in place.
This dear mother and dad were the parents of two children, a 3 year old and their little one who had died that night. They waited for hours, with their 3 year old at the hospital, while tests were run, and then lists of sick children were printed. Midnight came and went. This baby could maybe save the life of another baby through the gift of his liver. The family took turns holding both of their children, the active 3 year old in the waiting room and their little baby's body as we worked. Baby looked like he was asleep, yet they knew he was gone. They were patient. The family does not have to stay at the hospital all this time but some families choose to stay.
Hours went by. Disappointing news. There were no children in the US that were a good match for this precious gift. This little baby liver was showing too many signs of stress, and doctors were afraid it would not function well after transplant. Every possible doctor was asked. Once we exhausted the US list, we called closer areas of Canada, just in case. The parents desire to rescue another child, and save another family from losing a child, was not going to be possible. Sometimes these expert surgeons determine that the gifts offered are not strong enough to survive transplant.
We try to come up with thankful words that capture the hope they gave to everyone waiting, that just the time and the trying was so very meaningful and important.
Mom and dad said good-bye to their little one. Mom held him as the technology was taken away. As she saw him into the world, she saw him out of the world. I hopelessly patted her shoulder during their last minutes together, witnessed the last kisses and the tears. Finality. Meanwhile Dad’s tears ran onto the head of their sleeping three year old in the waiting room.
We are always amazed at the families we meet. So many of them are willing to give the very biggest thing. Life to a stranger. And the moments we share with these families are so deep and pure and holy.
We left the sounds of the ICU behind. We joined dad in the waiting room. Their 3-year-old son was groggy, half sleeping, as dad propped him into sitting upright. Momma and I squatted down in front of them, and the little guy allowed her to put one of his shoes on and me to put on the other. I tied it with double bows. I snuggled him into his little coat, zipping it up for the snow outside. Momma got a knit hat out of her canvas bag. She placed his hat on his head. She pulled his hood up over it. He did not want to stand, so Daddy stood and picked him up.
Mom stood there and seemed to have lost what to do next. I reached for her bag. I packed some stray toys in it. I put in a folder she had received, and a little booklet about grief. Mom still stood like a statue. I held her coat up, helped her into it. I placed her scarf around her neck. I put the bag in her hand, and then actually wrapped her fingers around the handle. I squeezed her hand. I looked into her sad eyes. I held her a minute. Then I took her arm and we left the waiting room. I got the elevator. I rode down to the lobby with them... saw them safely seated. It was 3 AM. They did not have their own car. Grandma was coming to give them a ride home. If she had not answered her phone they would have called a cab.
Yes, really. This heroic couple. They did not have their own car. And yet they gave the gift of this waiting, until the wee hours of the morning. Grandma gave a gift, too. Grandma was coming to give them a ride home. If she had not woken and answered her phone, their plan was to call a cab.
I hope you can feel them. What wonderful people they were.
I think we can all be kinder.
Melissa Regan is a Storyteller who is honored to celebrate the life you live and the people you love. She partners with individuals at significant times of life and loss, supporting them by creating and presenting their loved ones story at a service or by planning an inspirational day of rememberance and reflection.
Melissa spent time as a critical care nurse before she became specialized in the field of organ donation. Melissa was well known for the care she gave grieving families and did this delicate work for 14 years. Her experience lead to her teaching heartfelt methods of communication to donation specialists around the world.
Inspired by everything these families taught her, she expanded her perspective on life by studying Positive Psychology, earning both a CiPP and a CAPP. She received training as an end of life doula through INELDA. She has a special grace all her own when it comes to supporting us at times of change and loss.
Melissa is a wife, mother, lifelong learner, and a lover of the wonder you can find in a single moment. She brings this wonder to her public speaking, connecting us to the grandness and depth always present in the day to day.
“Take a day to be thoughtful... the rest of your life is here.”