Organ donors: the gift that keeps on living
Almost 15 years ago Chardre Yawana Laws died as a result of a traffic accident, but her heart is still beating.
The fun-loving 20-year-old was driving to her boyfriend's home when her motorcycle struck an ambulance, leaving her with massive head, spine and chest injuries. Despite the best efforts of doctors, she was later declared braindead.
Her mother Charmaigne Laws said it was then that she was approached about the possibility of organ donation.
“I said ‘of course',” she said. “If it can save the lives of others, by all means. As a result, six major organs were donated as well as veins, tissue and skin for burn victims. We were very blessed to bless other families with the gift of organ donation.
“Almost two years ago, I met her heart recipient. For me, that was an awesome experience. It was awesome to know that I now have a relationship with this young man that has my daughter's heart beating in him.
“The young man was just a year older than she was.”
Asked what she believed her daughter would think, Ms Laws said: “She would think it was a good thing. You don't have me, but you have this young man. I have joy in knowing that. When I'm around him I can hear his heartbeat.
“It was overwhelming in the beginning, but it was a good feeling.”
While Chardre's tragic death helped to save the lives of others, Erika Johnson of the Bermuda Organ Donor Association (BODA) said the need for organ donors around the world is large, with more than 123,000 people on an international waiting list.
A new name is added to that list every six minutes on average.
“There is a vast need that is worldwide, and in Bermuda it's even worse,” she said. “We don't have a lot of statistics available, but we know for kidneys specifically a few months ago we had approximately 170 people receiving haemodialysis because of kidney failure, and of those people there were 15 to 20 on the transplant list.”
She explained that the BODA was established on the Island by a group of concerned nurses and friends who wanted to see something done both to decrease the need for organ transplants and make the public aware about organ donation.
“At that time, we were told there were approximately five people in a month who were in motor vehicle collisions and sent overseas for organ transplants,” she said.
“BODA realised that there was a problem here that needed to get addressed. We need to find ways to ensure that people are safer, have health screenings to make sure they are taking care of themselves, and preserve their organs so they don't reach the stage where they need an organ.”
Ms Johnson noted that while for some the need for an organ transplant comes from circumstances beyond their control, in many other cases the problems are avoidable with lifestyle choices such as drug and alcohol abuse playing a factor.
She called on the public to both take care of themselves, taking part in regular health screenings, and to consider the issue of organ donation before it is too late.
“One person's organs can save approximately eight lives and enhance about 25 people's lives with their tissues,” she said. “It's up to us at the end of the day what our decision is, if we want to give someone the gift of life, and it is the gift that keeps on living.”
For more information, contact BODA at firstname.lastname@example.org
While organ donation may be a difficult subject for some, Charmaigne Laws said the issue is further clouded by public misconceptions.
Before agreeing to donate her daughter’s organs, Ms Laws said she was confronted by a relative who insisted that saying yes would mean less medical care. “He said you shouldn’t let her come off of her life support machine because they only want her organs, but that’s not true,” she said.
“They do everything in their power to ensure that your loved one is being cared for at the highest level. My daughter was braindead. You cannot recover from brain death.
“You can recover from a coma, but once you are braindead that’s it.
“That’s another myth. People think because you are on life support machine you should stay on there for years. There was no chance of recovery.” Erika Johnson of the Bermuda Organ Donor Association added that organ donation is only ever discussed once the patient is braindead. “Our primary aim is to get you back to 100 per cent health,” she said. Ms Laws said she was also approached by her daughter’s friends who were concerned that organ donation would disfigure her body — something she described as another myth. “There are a lot of myths out there, and that’s why it’s important to get involved, have the conversation and learn,” she added.