The Sunday Milwaukee Journal Sentinel had a unique story about the power of organ donation. In this amazing and heartfelt story, we learn about how Chris Persinger, a 17 year old boy on the verge of becoming a man, lost his life but bey checking the organ donor box on his license gave not only many strangers but amazingly his own sister the gift of health and well-being, for some likely life. The story is almost fantastical – something Hollywood might think up – but entirely true and I highly recommend reading the full piece which is extremely well written (it may be one of my favorite pieces I have ever read by JS).
A car accident took the life of Chris, along with two other boys, and while still grieving his parents were contatced by the American Tissue Services Foundation in Madison because their son was listed as a tissue and organ donor. Since he was only 17 the foundation wanted Chris’ parents approval. Since his organs had to be taken within 24 hours of when Chris was last known to be alive, they had to make a quick decision and many are thankful that they followed their son’s wishes, and their daughter would serendipitously be among the recipients.
Depending on your religious or spiritual views what transpired later could be seen as a miracle, a singular happenstance of providence, or at minimum a fortuitous return on paying it forward. Four years after her brother’s death, younger sister and recipient of Chris’s advice and love, Caitlyn, tore a ligament while playing sports. Doctors would need tissue from a donor to repair her knee. The family thought of their son and called to ask what had happened to their son’s donation, probably not even thinking their could be a match for their daughter, they learned that there was one last tissue from Chris and it was exactly what Caitlyn needed. Caitlyn had the surgery, did rehab, and now is back on the court playing basketball thanks to her own brother’s sacrifice.
It is a touching story of providence and almost unimaginable to think that a sibling was able to help another in such a way. But to me the story gets more eye opening (versus eye-watering) when the total numbers that benefitted from Chris Persinger are noted. In addition to his sister, his gifts had gone to 63 people in eight states and two continents. Yes, that is correct, though his life ended tragically in an accident, by putting an orange sticker on his license Chris gave new opportunities to 63 different people before his final gift to his sister.
I know for some it is hard to think about organ donation. The thought of taking parts from their own, or especially a loved one’s, body can seem macabre and depending on your faith may be in some manner against your beliefs. But if you are able to help even one person, let alone 64 as in Chris’s case, isn’t it worth it? Think of it this way, what if you or a loved one needs tissue like Caitlyn did – or even worse in a matter of life and death – wouldn’t you want someone to have donated their tissues?
While an individual can make the decision themselves, often the family needs to approve this as well. Even if the deceased did not specify the family can still sometimes agree to donation as well. In these cases it is one of the hardest decision for some. If your family member made the decision, please follow their wishes. You honor their foresight and compassion by doing so and the rewards down the line of how many they can help can be overwhelming, in a good way. I have registered myself and have told my family, or if I haven’t then this is a record of my wishes.
It is important to note that while putting the sticker on your license or ID is there as an option, the best way to let it be known you want to make tissue donations if the scenario comes up, is to officially register. In Wisconsin you can do it here, if you are in other states there is information at a government website here. It is also best that you notify family members and friends of your wishes so that they are prepared to support your decision.
The rarity of helping out a family member as in the Persinger’s case is perhaps one in a million, but you can still help many people. At the national organ donor web site they state that ‘Each day, about 79 people receive organ transplants. However, 18 people die each day waiting for transplants that can’t take place because of the shortage of donated organs.’ So please, go online and register yourself as an organ donor. Next month is National Organ and Tissue Donor Awareness Month, so I will remind you all then as well, but I encourage you to do it ASAP.