How a Seemingly Small Decision Makes a Big Impact
Updated: Apr 20
Shari Deeken, Editorial Consultant
For years, since I first obtained my driver’s license as a teenager, I always registered to be an organ donor when I renewed my license at the DMV. Sadly, I did so without ever giving it much thought. Deep down, I always felt it was a critical yet rare health procedure that might happen to ‘someone else,’ meaning either ‘someone else’ would need an organ some day or it would be ‘someone else’ who would die and subsequently become an organ donor.
The whole idea of organ donation was more theoretical to me. I had never known anyone to be either a living or deceased organ donor or an organ recipient, nor had I ever heard of anyone receiving an organ. And when you’re young, death of yourself or someone you love is practically inconceivable. We’re lured into the magical thinking that we’re either immortal or going to live very long lives.
But then it happened to my own family. A young family member in his early 20s, in the prime
of his life having just graduated from university, died unexpectedly. In the midst of our
family’s collective shock and grief, we still remembered that he had been an ardent advocate of organ donation, and his driver’s license proved it. His body was taken to have his organs recovered.
This was another shock to me. I had no idea that when someone died, up to eight organs could be donated to save the lives of multiple people in critical need of them in order to survive. These organs include the heart, both lungs and both kidneys, liver, pancreas, and even body tissue and eyes. In all, we later learned, his death had contributed to saving several peoples’ lives.
I also learned, most importantly, that unexpected deaths happen all the time, even to those we love, who are extremely young and healthy. As a result, registering when young, as early as when a high school or college student, is critically important to help with SODA’s and our country’s collective life-saving vision and mission of impacting the critical organ donor shortage.
Surprisingly, and quite kindly, our family received a lovely letter with a certificate from the Governor of the State of Wisconsin, personally signed by him, thanking our family member’s life-saving role as an organ donor. He also expressed his heartfelt sorrow that the conditions of my family member’s death had been the critical catalyst to saving the lives of others.
I became much more aware of organ donation and even knowledgeable about organ donor registration. When I spoke to people about it, I mostly encountered shrugs and blank faces. People seemed to know so little about it, just as I had before it impacted my family. I tried to find an outlet of some kind for which I could contribute by volunteering for the organ donation cause. I learned about SODA: Student Organ Donation Advocacy. I was excited as I discovered more about them on social media, particularly on LinkedIn and Facebook.
Now, and over the past year, I have been an active volunteer for SODA, despite not being either a student myself or of student age. I am particularly passionate about spreading the word about organ donation, how easy it is to sign up on the national organ donor registry, that you can donate not just one but many of your own organs and in so doing, save multiple lives. I have spent most of my career writing, and now volunteer my time with SODA as an editorial consultant. I’m excited about being both a part of and able to contribute to this exciting and quickly growing organization. The growth of organ donation awareness and education about how easy registration can be will certainly increase the number of people who register as donors. We can only hope they will become lifelong ambassadors of this life-saving movement.