In South Carolina, 118 people became organ donors when they died last year to help save 406 lives.
Debra Walters, along with her children, Christian, Caitlin, CJ and Caine, made the decision to donate her husband and their father Terry’s organs when he died in 2007.
“We had talked about it several times and we knew it was the right thing to do and when the time came, although it was sudden and unexpected, we had talked about it so we knew,” Walters said.
Walters said she knows part of his neck bone and left cornea went to other people.
“We knew that the donations that we were making as a family were going to be well used,” she said.
About five months after Terry died, they received a letter from the man who received his neck bone. He was a police officer and had broken his neck. Because of their gift, he was walking and living a full life.
After three letters the family decided that while they were grateful for the acknowledgment of the gift, they needed to go on living their lives.
“While I liked the contact with the recipient, I preferred unknowing because it seemed unlimited what the possibilities could have been,” Walters said.
Walters and all of her children are registered organ donors. She said what really hit home was when her 6-year-old son, Caine, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when he was 3.
“He will have a lifetime of health issues that may include the need for a transplant in his future,” she said.
To help her cope with the loss of her husband, Walters volunteers with LifePoint Inc., which offers organ and tissue donation services for South Carolina. She speaks at health fairs and events about organ donation, and said it is important to talk with your loved ones about your wishes.
“If you don’t talk to your loved ones and something happens, they my not know your wishes, so it needs to be recorded somewhere,” she said, “and the easiest way to do that is online or at the DMV.”
Each April, during Donate Life Month, donor families get together for an uplifting conference. Walters said one of the highlights of the conference for her is the quilt made from squares that represent organ donors made by their families. She volunteered her time to sew four over the past few years.
“Seeing the reactions of family members finding their square, it’s almost the same reaction that people get when looking for names on a memorial wall,” she said. “When the finally see that person’s square they stand in shock because there is their 8 by 8 square but then it was combined with a whole quilt worth and they see the enormity of the gift.”
Walters said she is passing the quilt making on to another volunteer this year and hopes it will help him or her cope the same way it helped her.
But, while the quilts representing organ donors illustrate the enormity of their gift, without more donors many on the waiting list will die. On average, 18 people in the United States die each day because of the shortage of organs.
To learn more about organ donation or to register to become a donor, visit http://donatelifesc.org.