January 18, 2011
After his brother died from lung cancer last August, Scobee agreed to have his sibling's corneas harvested for donation.
Cornea donation makes it possible to preserve or restore eyesight. The cornea is the clear, dome-shaped window that covers the front of the eye and allows light to pass through to the retina, enabling people to see.
According to donatelife.net, the majority of deceased individuals are potential cornea donors. For cornea donations, organ procurement organizations usually work with eye banks to match recipients and donors.
"Corneas are evaluated for cell count and clarity of the tissue," a section on cornea donation at donatelife.net said. "That information, together with the donor's age, is used to determine which patient will receive the cornea for transplant. Whenever possible, eye banks try to place the cornea with a patient that is close in age to the donor to help ensure that the cornea will last throughout the patient's lifetime."
Gerald Scobee died at the age of 65. He battled lung cancer for four months, and although he made most of his wishes known to his family before his death, organ donation wasn't a subject that had been broached.
"We really never talked about it," Scobee said. "After he passed the staff at the hospital asked me if I knew, but I really didn't. Then I looked at his driver's license -- they had given me his wallet -- and it was indicated that he wanted to be an organ donor. I considered that him telling me that's what he wanted."
The staff at Regional Hospital in Terre Haute got Scobee in contact with the Indiana Organ Procurement Organization (IOPO). Representatives of IOPO walked Scobee through the necessary steps to donate his brother's corneas.
Scobee was told he and his family could obtain information about the recipient of their loved one's corneas, but they opted not to.
"We let them know right up front that we weren't necessarily needing to know that," he said. "We didn't want to know who got them; all we wanted to know was that someone did."
Because he had undergone so much chemotherapy and radiation to combat his cancer, the only thing Gerald Scobee could donate was his corneas.
"When you're talking about corneas, there is really very little risk of any sort of cancer cells migrating to that area," said Sam Davis, director of professional services at IOPO. "It's tissue that can give a recipient the wonderful gift of sight."
Davis said people should not assume because they are ill, overweight or of advanced age that they can't be organ or tissue donors.
"They think because of these things that they would have nothing of value to donate, and that's just not the case," he said.
Last year, 146 people donated corneas through IOPO, and 86 of them were exclusive cornea donors. While that was sometimes because their families directed the organ and tissue donations from their loved ones be limited, Davis said it was more often because corneas were the only possible donation.
"We would never imply that a donation was 'just the corneas,'" Davis said. "It's an amazing thing to see how these gifts can change people's lives."
Cornea transplants are one of the oldest types of transplants, Davis said, and the success rate is high.
"If you went back 20 years, maybe not even that far, you'ds find that people were waiting a month or so for cornea transplants," he said. "Today, it's rare that patients have to wait that long. It's a testament to the generosity of people. It's rare that a doctor is not going to find a donation that is going to work for a patient."
Scobee said he hopes telling his brother's story will educate others on the importance of organ donationand of making one's wishes on the matter known before the time comes to actually put them into play.
"This is so important," he said. "It's something anyone can do that can really benefit someone else. It was a hard decision to make ... everything has to be decided very quickly. But as hard as it was then, now I feel really good about it. And I know my brother would, too."
Despite a 12-year ago difference, Danny and Gerald Scobee were always close.
"People said we were like salt and pepper," Scobee said. "You rarely saw one without the other."
The Scobee brothers were so close that Gerald gave his younger brother power of attorney to make medical decisions for him, and also made him executor of his estate.
The closeness made the organ donation process easier.
"I knew all kinds of information," Scobee said. "Knowing your loved one's history, as well as important dates, events and health issues, is important because then your (organ procurement) coordinator will be able to tell you what can be donated."
Scobee also has two sisters, and he said their brother's decision to be an organ donor has made the remaining siblings closer, and also gives them a sense of peace.
"Knowing that (Gerald) still lives on somewhere ... it's heartwarming," Scobee said. "My brother was a great man, and I have so many memories. Everywhere I look, every time I do something, every time I turn around, it's like he's right there."
As Gerald Scobee headed into his last days, his brother and sisters gathered to make the final decisions together.
"We all got together, sat out on the porch and discussed what (Gerald) wanted," Scobee said. "We knew what his last desires were, and we wanted to make sure they happened."
Gerald Scobee spent 34 years in the Air National Guard.
"He was always happy," Scobee said. "He loved his family and was extremely dedicated to God and country."
Gerald had three grown daughters and nine grandchildren when he passed away. Since then, two more of his grandchildren have been born.
"He loved his grandkids," Scobee said, gazing at a collection of framed photos of his late brother that were sitting on a kitchen counter at his Fillmore home. "He was real proud of his military service. He liked to do a lot of handyman things ... he and I built this house together. He was a doer."
A couple of months before he passed away, Gerald moved from his home in w Cloverdale to the Fillmore home of his brother and his brother's wife Cindy.
"He came here reluctantly, but he knew we loved him and wanted to take care of him," Scobee said.
Although he has always indicated on his license that he wanted to be an organ donor, since his brother's death Scobee has taken further steps to make sure there is no doubt about what his final wishes are.
At the IOPO website (iopo.org), there is a registry where those who want to be organ donors can input their information and make a printout.
"After I learned about this organization and the experience was so positive, I knew I had to make sure it was known that I wanted to be an organ donor," Scobee said.
And Scobee encourages others to do the same.
"It means a lot to share my brother's legacy," he said. "There's a need out there. There are people who are waiting for donations and transplants."
Scobee said he is comforted by the fact that his brother is no longer in and pain and that his gift helped someone.
"In every tragedy, there has to be something positive that comes out of it," he said thoughtfully. "Don't get me wrong ... I'd trade everything to have my brother back, but not the way he was."