Sharon Young wants to do her part to promote National Donate Life Month.
After all, if not for a liver transplant in 2008, the Vero Beach resident probably wouldn’t be here now.
“It is the desire of my heart to make a difference where organ donation is concerned,” she wrote in an e-mail last month. “It still remains a challenge for the transplant organizations to educate the public on the process and help alleviate false assumptions that exist.”
When we met at the Press Journal on Tuesday morning, I was surprised how healthy she looked. If it wasn’t the reason we set up an interview, I never would have known she had a transplant 18 months ago (at the age of 57).
She showed me photos from before the transplant. Her husband of 32 years, Tony, a retired colonel in the U.S. Army, said she looked like a malnourished prisoner of war. I could see a resemblance.
But thanks to the liver from a 61-year-old woman — that’s all Sharon knows about her donor — she was able to extend her life.
Looking back, the first hint of Sharon’s liver problems surfaced during a routine blood test in the 1970s. “Some enzymes were out of whack,” she said. Still, she managed to live “a pretty normal life” until about five years ago.
Then her world was turned upside down.
Once doctors decide a transplant is needed, the process can test one’s will to live. That’s why the patient is required to have a strong support system in place.
Tony now knows why that is a requirement.
“I can’t imagine anyone doing that by themselves,” he said. “It’s very intense for family members.”
In Florida, 34 percent of licensed drivers are designated donors, according to Lesley Ann McMillen, public relations and marketing manager for TransLife.
With 81 percent participation, Wyoming is the national leader for designated donors, McMillen said. Texas is last with 2 percent, but it has only had a state registry for a little more than a year.
Indian River County — where 59 percent of the licensed drivers are designated donors — has more in common with Wyoming than its own state.
The need is always there for donors of organs (heart, intestines, kidneys, liver lungs and pancreas), tissue (bones, corneas, heart valves, skin and tendons) and eyes.
Nationwide, there has been a surge in the number of people enrolled in state-registry programs for donors. Citing Donate Life America statistics, McMillen says the 86.3 million registered donors represents a 24.4 percent increase since 2007.
Becoming a donor has never been easier.
Last year, Donate Life Florida improved the management of the state’s donor database. It is now available 24/7 online. If you want to register, make changes or even remove your name, it can be done online, McMillen said. (Log on towww.donatelifeflorida.org for more information.)
Tony Young did not become a designated donor until he found out his wife needed a liver transplant.
That’s the way it often works — only when it touches your life do you take action.
A brochure by Donate Life America might motivate some people still on the fence. It lists eight “facts” to debunk some misperceptions. Following are three of the myth-busters.
“FACT: All major religions support organ, eye and tissue donation as an unselfish act of charity.
“FACT: Donation should not delay or change funeral arrangements. An open casket funeral is possible.
“FACT: There is no cost to the donor’s family or estate for donation. The donor family pays only for the medical expenses before death and costs associated with funeral arrangements.”
Sharon Young remembers talking with her doctor about her liver transplant. She was not convinced the cost was worth an estimated five extra years of life.
“Why do you look at the glass half-empty?” the doctor at Tampa General Hospital asked her.
“That’s five Christmases and five Thanksgivings you’ll be able to spend with your family that you wouldn’t have otherwise.”