Organ donor gave youngsters their precious grandfather, Columbus, Ohio
Kate Dopirak | Plains Dealer Guest Columnist
When inky clouds threatened to ruin our trip to the zoo, my 5-year-old asked, "Who's the boss of weather?" Before I could decide if I should tackle science or religion, my 3-year-old cheered, "Pa!" Joey seemed totally satisfied with the answer. No surprise, really, because their grandfather, Dr. Milan Dopirak, is, after all, incredible.
Fourteen years ago, Pa received an amazing, selfless gift -- a liver. An organ donor saved his life. That same organ donor gave Joey and Bobby one of their greatest gifts -- their buddy, their biggest fan, their Pa.
Sometimes I wonder if Pa loves my boys the way he does -- so completely and unconditionally -- because he suffered through that illness and surgery. Did he worry about never knowing future grandchildren? Did he imagine their faces -- chins and ears just like his -- while he spent so much time at the Cleveland Clinic? Certainly his faith -- he is truly blessed with a strong connection to God -- helped him deal with being sick, but I'm guessing dreams about new baby Dopiraks gave him strength, too.
The boys make him laugh -- a head-back, mouth-open baritone celebration of sound. He encourages them to shoot hoops, hit baseballs, swim, ride bikes. Oh, the bikes. Pa took the boys to Ernie's Bicycle Shop so Joey could pick out a bike for his birthday. While we were all busy oohing and ahhing over Joey's choice, Bobby cruised around the store on the greatest red tricycle ever. Thanks to Pa, both boys got new bikes, complete with bells. Happy birthday to everyone! That's just the way it is with Pa. But he's not showoffish about it. His generosity and appreciation for life are gentle and smooth -- truly pure.
The last time we visited, the boys raced down the hallway with so much enthusiasm in anticipation of jumping all over Pa that the house shook. This fantastic greeting doesn't just magically happen. No. Pa has earned it. From the time the boys were born, he has whispered to them, "I love you but I love you." He's been known to lie on the floor next to the crib, waiting for sleep to come. The Baby Whisperer has nothing on Pa. He's the master of the baby-bounce walk that calms even the most agonized cries. Now when the boys fuss -- "I can't find my blanky!" or "This truck no work!" -- he sings Mighty Mouse-style, "Here I come to save the day!" Both boys believe Pa really can solve or fix anything.
They are not alone. His patients and their families adore him and the work he does as a cardiologist at Aultman Hospital in Canton. Even the nurses on his team love him, as evidenced by the most delicious cutout, iced cookies he receives (and we devour) every holiday season. When I taught second grade, Pa treated the grandfather of one of my students. The student's mom contacted me to share how happy they were with the quality of care, and also to get ideas for a thank-you gift.
Few things make Pa as happy as his grandchildren -- his gorgeous wife of 41 years, Jan, for sure; a clean car; an A+ movie; inspiring architecture; a trip to Charleston, S.C.; antiques; and "This Old House." And few things make Joey and Bobby as happy as eating the Cake Lady cookies that Pa gets for them. The only thing better is eating those sweet treats with Pa.
So, during this month when we search for things to be thankful for, we celebrate Pa. Thank you for encouraging us, for advising us and for loving us. We also celebrate organ donation. To the scientists, doctors and especially to the donor families who make it possible -- thank you.
On that day at the zoo, when those nasty clouds moved on without even dropping a drip, Joey said, "I guess Pa wants us to have a great day outside!" "Yeah!" Bobby cheered, jumping and skipping in agreement. "Pa cool dude!"