(Sad and beautiful story of Carolyn, Richard, Andrea and Amy. Narrated by Andrea, through my Facebook friend Joe Kralicek.)
“In case you ever wondered what a donor family goes through, here is an article from my donor Carolyn’s daughter Andrea. And to clarify, the “Joe” referred to in this, is of course me!
On October 30, 1992 my Mother, Carolyn Sue S. R., came home with a pounding headache. I arrived home from work as a social worker at a long term care center. My name is Andrea R.B. and I was 23 at the time. My sister, Amy R.R. was 22 years old and a student teacher, and my Dad, Richard R. was a pharmacist were seated on our couch looking at homemade cards my sister’s classroom had made for her, as she was student teaching at an elementary school in Waterloo, Iowa.
My Mom was a physical therapist and my Dad was a pharmacist. They were both current on trends in the medical field. I say this because Organ Donation was not widely discussed or mentioned in the media, let alone in your doctor’s office or while creating Living Wills.
They could both sense that her headache was unusual and she tried lying down in her bedroom. I went into her bedroom and laid with her and talked softly with her. My Father came in and said he thought it was best to take my Mother to the emergency room for pain medication.
My Father helped my Mom change out of her work clothes and she wore Keds tennis shoes, a fuschia t-shirt and her favorite jacket with her purse tucked under her arm like a football. I sat down in the living room with my sister and we watched them go out the front door. That was the last time we saw her.
It seemed like forever but the phone finally rang. It was the hospital’s Chaplin calling to tell us to come to the emergency room to be with our Mother. When we got there our Dad and a Doctor took us aside and told us that our Mother had had a cerebral aneurysm and was unresponsive. We went into the room where the nurses where providing oxygen and monitoring her vitals.
We were told to talk to her and that she would here us. We told her we were there. We gently slipped off her jewelry so it would not get lost.
There was no neurologist in the surrounding area that could repair the aneurysm so a flight plan was made from the hospital in Waterloo, Iowa to St. Mary’s in Rochester, Minnesota. Unfortunately the medical helicopter at the Waterloo hospital could not transport her due to a warning light. We waited for another helicopter to come and our family was escorted by police officers to the Minnesota border.
It was after midnight and the doctors caring for my Mother shared with us that she was no longer physically alive and that a respirator was breathing for her. My Father took my sister and myself into a private room and explained that our Mom had wanted to be an organ donor. We silently listened as a gathering of a transplant team met with our family to discuss and explain the details of how our Mother would be treated as an organ donor and what organs would be donated, should we give our consent. Our Father was very patient and allowed my sister and I to participate in the decision making. The
organ donation team carefully listed each organ that could be donated and we gave consent.
Once again gathered in intensive care and said our good-byes. It was difficult, but we were comforted knowing that her decision to share of herself in such a special way would bring life for other families. The transplant team began to work at high speed and camped at her bedside. I listened to their medical jargon as they prepared to take my Mother into surgery.
I asked them if she would know what was happening and they replied no.
Over the course of a year a transplant coordinator sent us newsletters and educational material about grieving. There was a chance to correspond with a donor recipient, but only if both parties agreed. One day we received a heart-warming letter from a man named Joe. He was very kind and thankful and wrote beautiful poetry about his transplant recipient process.
My Mother passed away on October 31, 1992. Her name was Carolyn and she chose to share the gift of life. It is August 12, 2013. My sister and I have a constant friend in Joe. We no longer correspond with the transplant center, but think of it every October. Give the gift of life, be an organ donor.”