You can’t take ’em with you

Confession: There’s someone important to me who I haven’t told you about. You see, I don’t know this person’s name. I don’t even know if he’s a boy or a girl, young or old. I only know two things about this person:

  1. He is dead.
  2. He was an organ donor.

My brother-in-law, Ben, was born with Cystic Fibrosis. Among other things, it means that breathing is hard for him. In the ten years that I’ve known him, Ben constantly coughs. It’s a thick, phlegm-y cough like someone who is coming down with the flu. He does regular breathing treatments. He takes lots of medicine.

Ben has always been in and out of the hospital, but recently, it’s been more frequent and for longer periods of time. In fact, he was supposed to be the best man in our wedding, but wound up in the hospital a few days before. 

On Thanksgiving day 2010, Ben found himself once again in the hospital.  There he stayed for a week, a month, Christmas day, New Year’s, Valentine’s day. I watched the Superbowl in his hospital room. (Go figure, the biggest Green Bay fan in all of Texas, the Superbowl is being played in our town, and he can’t even go outside, let alone to any Superbowl parties or the game.) He was told that he’d be in the hospital until a new set of lungs came for him.

So we waited.

Then I got the call. The lungs are here! I had house guests staying with me at the time. I told them to leave the key under the mat, and I flew out the door, into my car, down the highway. I took lots of pictures. Everyone was nervous but excited. Ben was all smiles.

We went down to the surgery floor and met the nurses. We were just waiting for the anesthesiologist, and then it’d be adios Old Ben, Hola new lungs!

My in-laws (Aka Stephen's family minus Stephen)

No go. The lungs were no good. The deceased had breathed in their own blood. The transplant was off.

I consider that to be the worst day of my life. Which is, honestly, kind of unfair. I was able to walk out of the hospital and sleep in my own bed. I could take a deep breath. But seeing the faces of the people I loved in that moment, was horrible.

With May came spring and new lungs for my brother-in-law. This time, they were good. The transplant happened.

Ben is now out of the hospital and doing well. No more coughing. No more breathing treatments. He is taking tons of meds, though.

He gets to do what many healthy twenty-something guys do: he’s partying it up. Can you blame him? I love my in-laws dearly, and they’ve all taught me a lot. Ben taught me perspective, and patience, and that miracles do happen. I never really believed it before.

To the person who gave their lungs to Ben: Thank you! You didn’t just change one life. You changed the lives of all of us who love Ben. The ripple effect of your gift is enormous. In your final, selfless act, you blessed our family infinitely. Thank you!

I know that people chose not to be organ donors for various reasons. I just hope that if you aren’t an organ donor, it’s not because you didn’t have the time to do it or because you just didn’t think about it.

Are you an organ donor? I am!*