An open letter to organ donor families

Dear Donor Family,

I am writing to you during the most difficult and darkest time in your life. I’m truly sorry you’re going through this. Please know that my heart is breaking for you.

You may already be coming to the realization that the end is inevitable, or perhaps you are at the beginning stages of the life-changing tragedy that will ultimately lead you to a decision that you will need to make – the choice to donate your loved one’s organs and tissues.

I know how hopeless this situation feels. The frustration that nothing more can be done; the fear of continuing life without your loved one; and the grief that may already be setting in are overwhelming. I know this, because I experienced it firsthand.

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My name is Alyshia and I am a donor family member. My Dad, Malcolm Higgins, was in a single-vehicle car accident in 2010 and sustained a critical brain injury. His eldest child at 24 years old at the time, I was appointed his substitute decision maker. The moment I received the phone call that he’d been in an accident, I knew my life would change forever.

When my three younger siblings and I learned my Dad would never awake from his injury, we chose to withdraw life support. He was six months shy of his 50th birthday.

I remember the day so vividly: the fear, the heartbreak and the devastation were almost too much to bear. I also remember another feeling: comfort. My Dad met the criteria for organ donation. We were fortunate that our father had been very vocal about his wishes – should he ever be eligible to donate, he wanted to do so.

Through his gift, one man received a double-lung transplant; two men each received a kidney, freeing them from the rigorous routine of dialysis; and two more received the gift of sight through his corneas.

In our darkest moments, the thought that something positive could come out of our heartbreaking tragedy provided immeasurable comfort. While our family was getting the worst news of our lives, five other families were getting the best phone call of theirs – their loved ones were getting a second chance.

You may be surprised to know that today, right this minute, there are nearly 500 people waiting for a life-saving organ transplant in British Columbia alone and over 4,500 nationwide. To so many of us, this number is not just a statistic; it represents our friends, siblings, cousins, children, and parents who are all desperately waiting for the gift of life.

For a young BC recipient, Addison, that phone call came just in time. Born with a heart condition in 2011, her parents learned when she was weeks old that she would need a transplant – and soon.

The call for them came on Mother’s Day. In the midst of losing their own child, another family selflessly chose to save her parents from going through the same heartbreak. Today, this beautiful little girl is nearly four years old and living a happy, healthy normal life. You can read more about her journey here.

There are no words to describe parents who lose their children because it’s just not supposed to happen. Tragically, it does and all too often.

My Dad’s father – my grandfather – experienced this. He was devastated to outlive one of his children, but was immensely proud of the legacy his only son was leaving behind.

I can’t even begin to imagine the pain, the anger and the heartbreak of losing a child because I am not a mother. What I can tell you is how it feels to have a family member who is a hero.

When we were told my Dad’s grave prognosis, I desperately wanted to do something – anything – to make him better, but the reality was he could no longer be helped. It broke my heart to think of all of the things he was going to miss out on.

He won’t be there to walk me down the aisle at my wedding and I will never have a memory of him beaming with pride and kissing me on the cheek as his little girl one last time. He’ll miss the grandchildren my siblings and I will eventually have and there will never be another Christmas where we’ll sit down as a family, reminisce about years gone by and make new traditions. Our memories are now all we have – and the knowledge that my Dad has given a future to others.

For three families whose fathers, brothers, husbands and friends were saved through his selflessness, they will have these things for many years to come. In fact, I know through correspondence with my Dad’s double-lung recipient that he was able to proudly walk his daughter down the aisle without an oxygen tank in tow and visited his family out west for the first time in 10 years. He can bounce his grandkids on his knees, travel with his wife and walk up the stairs in his home without gasping for air. (By complete flook, my sister and I met him at an organ donation event – he’s such a lovely man.)

An Enviable Legacy - My Dad's Story of Donation

Making the choice to donate is not a difficult one, but one made during the most difficult of times and I know this firsthand. Donating your loved one’s organs and tissues will never take away the pain of losing them, but it can provide you with some solace in your time of overwhelming grief.

One single donor can potentially save up to eight lives through organ donation. Imagine sparing other families from losing their loved ones, allowing them to see another birthday, another Christmas, even just another day.

For those waiting, time is running out. Without transplants, the people on the wait list will inevitably die.

I respectfully ask that in your time of grief, you consider the life-changing and life-saving gift organ and tissue donation can have.  

Your choice will not only impact the immediate future of your loved one’s recipients, but will create an eternal legacy.

My dad always used to say his four kids would amount to greater things than he could, but I beg to differ. There is no greater gift you can give someone than life itself and he achieved that three-fold.

The man whose gift saved three lives and gave sight to two more; the man whose story has been shared in three countries and the man whose donation inspired his four children and countless others was my father and for that, I couldn’t be more proud.

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Please, register your consent, talk to your family and speak to your loved one’s health-care team. The decision you make will change lives forever – including your own.

With sincere gratitude,

A Proud Donor Daughter

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13 thoughts on “An open letter to organ donor families

  1. As a double lung recipient, I am very happy to hear your feelings. To know that you do take some solace in your Dad’s gift means a lot to me. Ever since my transplant, my joy and gratitude has been tinged with guilt that my family’s happiness is at the expense of my donor family’s grief. Aside from the physical life-changing experience of having lungs that can breathe, I got to experience holding my newborn grandson in my arms and so much more. Your Dad truly is a hero, and as his family, so are you!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Good morning. My name is Julia and I too am an organ donor’s daughter. My dad fell and hit his head playing pond hockey two years ago. And like you we were given the prognosis that still seems too hard to even imagine. We knew without question that organ donation is what he would want. I couldn’t agree more about how that decision made my dad’s death feel less of a waste. It was an incredible feeling to receive letters from the recipient families. I cried through every one as I read their stories. Unfortunately the person who received his heart passed away shortly after the transplant but the others we hve heard from are doing really well. Another similarity our story has is that my grandfather is still alive and has now experienced the loss of three of his children. I remember him sitting in the hospital taking to the organ donation team and asking lots of questions and in the end saying “I can donate my organs too? I thought I was too old.” He was thrilled when they told him the oldest heart transplant they had done the woman was in her 80’s (I hope I am remembering that right) and that was 15 years ago and the heart is still going strong. I know that my dad’s legacy has made this a little easier for him too. The three days from the time of the accident to the time it was all over are a blur but one of the things I remember very clearly is the whole donation process. It was truly incredible. Something I had never really thought about having to make a decision about but then again I never thought we’d be in the hospital with my dad laying in a hospital bed like that either. From one organ donor daughter to another I hope that you continue to find peace and comfort in the gifts your dad has given.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: An open letter to donor families from the daughter of a donor | Outlive Yourself

  4. I would like to thank you and your siblings for not only sharing your story but supporting organ donation. I am a donor mom. I lost my son Evan Smith just 8 days after his 25th birthday. He had just begun his life as a first time father. Luke was almost 8 weeks old when Evan was in a auto accident which took his life 3 days later but because Evan was such a caring and giving person the decision to donate his organs came without question. Yes, the hardest part was “letting go”.
    Me, my daughter and grandson (who called Evan “bubba”) attended grief counseling for almost a year. Every week the group counselor would play music that sounded like we were sitting outside listening to the birds chirp. She would ask us to close our eyes and breathe. I hated that word: breathe. I did not want to breathe and I did not want to be here but I did have an interest in my sons organs. Where were they? What difference had they made in the recipients life? Could I meet them? Would it take away the void?
    On December 13, 2013 our Life Gift Rep set up a meeting for our family which included Evan’s 2 year old son to meet 3 of Evan’s recipients and their family. It was the most amazing gathering of my life!
    We met Hector, his heart recipient who loves children and coaches soccer which Evan had a heart for both! We met Chuck, his lung recipient who on his 1 year transplant anniversary was in Nevada on a racetrack and Evan loved racing and fast cars! And we met Gertrude, his kidney recipient who takes Evan’s kidney to church every sunday and sings to him constantly. We are all family now and I cannot begin to tell you what a blessing these additions have been to me and my family. God bless you all for the unselfish sacrifice you made in donating your fathers organs.

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  5. Pingback: 2,174 days: A letter to Dad | Unfiltered Discourse

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