The Ultimate Choice: Donate

by Debbie Henry

Mark, Debbie, Scott, and Teresa
Mark, Debbie, Scott, and Teresa

None of us want to think about the issue of organ donation, the subject brings fear to our hearts. We just do not want to address the issue, procrastination is normal, but the truth is it needs to be discussed.

I wanted to share our son’s story. Deciding to give life to others while in denial that you are losing your loved one is a place I wish no family had to visit. The fact is that all too often it does happen, and to be prepared and know what your loved one would want at this stressful time is a blessing.

Our son, Scott, a bright and gifted college student, was taken from us on September 16, 2004. He was 23 years old. He was doing the right thing by offering to be the designated driver for a group of friends the night of September 10, 2004. In the early morning hours of the 11th, Scott was fulfilling his obligation; he was sober, only trying to get a friend to his car in order to take him home. When we received the call to come to the hospital and the ER Doctor said that Scott was badly hurt, it seemed unreal and totally impossible.

We have always trusted both of our sons to use sound judgment and they have never let us down. We did not ever receive calls from their schools or the police; our boy’s had always offered to help others instead of acting with aggression.

Five days we prayed and could only watch as he slipped from us. He soon became a mass of stark white head bandages, tubes, pumps and beeping monitors. The only help that we could give was to wipe morphine sweat from his brow and pray he knew his family and friends were with him. We were choking on hope and memories, unwilling to accept the fact that we might lose him. Your mind goes to a place of safety or at least tries to during a time of high emotional stress. You do not want to hear that it’s over.

On the fifth day, the doctors called the immediate family into the ICU. I can remember sitting beside my mother, Scott’s father and brother were standing directly behind me, along with Scott’s aunt and uncle. The doctor showed us the brain scans, they revealed massive swelling. Next they showed scans of his heart, which had been badly damaged because he had several strokes due to blood pressure in his brain backing up to his heart. His heart kept trying to pump blood that could not flow into the brain. The doctor explained that in most cases being physically fit would be a good thing, but, in this case, Scott’s body was struggling to repair itself.

The next question asked was how did we feel about Scott being a donor? Those words took my breath away. Everything stopped.

Until this point, I still wanted to believe that everything would be OK, that somehow Scott would live. This question forced us to see that it was over. Our son was gone. All that I can really remember was our younger son, Mark, speaking through tears into my ear., “Mom, you know that is what Scott would want”. His voice brought me back to this new horrible reality. Yes of course, what do we do, where do we sign. Shock is not even close to what we all were feeling.

We were then given a crash course about donation, skin, bones, eyes and organs could save lives and help accident victims, this information made a deep impression on us. The thought of burn victims had not even entered our minds. We signed and knew Scott would approve. He had always taken care of himself and we wanted his hard work to not end here at this hospital.

As we left the ICU and entered the hallway, we were greeted by a dozen or so of Scott’s friends. The hospital was filled with these wonderful young people. I can’t guess how many of them had camped out in the waiting rooms for five days. Taking shifts so that Scott would never be alone, they had helped us get through this horrible time.

We would never have imagined that our decision to donate would not be received as an option. Some felt that we were giving up on Scott and we were not giving him a chance to recover. Others understood. The kids had not seen the scans we had just witnessed. They did not understand that no matter what we did Scott was not going to make it. With both his heart damaged and his brain swelling it was just a matter of time, Scott was clinically brain dead. He was already gone. They spoke of miracles and how strong Scott was if given the chance.

I crumpled under their gaze. My husband, Mark, stepped forward and gripped my arm as he held me. He then spoke for both of us. The decision has been made. We are his parents and we hold this responsibility. It was Scott’s wish to be a donor and it is ours also. Mark then asked them to please understand we were looking out for our son. He moved the crowd aside to let us pass. A minister stepped forward and offered to help talk to the kids, as did our son. Scott’s girlfriend, Teresa, looked in his wallet and found that Scott had signed the donor agreement on the back of his driver’s license. They walked slowly away and asked to see Scott one last time. We agreed as did the ICU staff. The next few hours were a blur, as were the next days, weeks, and months.

I share this horrible time in our lives with you to try to help you understand the chaos surrounding a tragic event of this magnitude. Scott had signed his donor card, without it I don’t think Scott’s friends would have ever forgiven us. Over time, they have finally understood why we agreed that Scott should be an organ donor.

Life Share of Oklahoma was Scott’s organ placement service. They were in immediate contact with us. Helping us through our pain, they were fearless in their dedication to lessen our grief. Phone calls at random times as well as Mother’s and Father’s Day, Christmas and Scott’s birthday. When the pain was at its worst, they were there.

They sent us a letter explaining where Scott’s organs had been placed, their ages, health issues and state locations. They asked if we wanted to be informed if any of the recipients contacted Life Share asking to communicate with us. We agreed and could not imagine what would happen. What happened was amazing; there are no other words to express it. Now there have been bittersweet tears of joy instead of only pain. We had made the right decision.

The first letter we received was a year after Scott had passed. It was from a wonderful young lady who was thanking us for her father. She was disabled and would not have been able to live at home without her father; he also sent us a thank you letter. He had received Scott’s liver on September 18th. Her father only had a short time to live without one. He was placed on the transplant list on September 16th, the day Scott died. She used an onscreen keyboard in order to send us her letter. She told us about her dad’s farm and that her brother was in college but would be returning to the farm soon to help out. They had cows and other livestock, it sounded like a beautiful place to live. Without Scott’s gift, this young lady would have been placed in a home for the disabled. Taken from everything she knew. She would have lost her Dad and he was everything to her. Although he is in his fifties, he now has a long life ahead of him as does his family. How many lives had Scott touched and changed for the better.

We received a card from Scott’s kidney recipient with a big Thank You. That means to us that they are OK.

Then three years after Scott had passed, we got another letter, this time from our home state of Texas. The letter opens with, “You don’t know me, but I am alive, thanks to your loved one who was my pancreas donor. This makes you all a part of my family”. She continued to share that when she was diagnosed with diabetes at age thirteen she immediately became insulin dependent. At age sixteen, she lost her mother, so she became surrogate mother to her siblings. This included cleaning the house, laundry, cooking, helping everyone do their homework, plus keeping up her personal studies, and lastly, preparing the family for bed and it started all over the next day.

As the years passed her diabetes became worse. She had to have a leg amputated and was in the hospital for three months. Then dialysis three times a week due to renal failure. By the Grace of God one of her brothers was a match and he donated a kidney, but without a pancreas it too would fail. She was on the donor list for a year and five months. Then on September 18th, two days after Scott died, she received his pancreas, it was a perfect match.

It has been three years and she is still healthy. She has not experienced any type of rejection. She thanks God, her hospital and doctors, and Scott for offering her life. She, for the first time, has her own apartment, lives alone although her father checks on her every day. She loves to read, write, watch TV and enjoy Texas Sunsets. She no longer has diabetes. She wanted us to know that our son still lives through her, with her heartfelt love and gratitude for Scott’s gift. We received her letter at Thanksgiving 2007.

Then in December another recipient from Oklahoma had a gift for us. This man was not one of Scott’s recipients but someone who was saved by a wonderful donation of a heart. We received a breathtaking hand drawn picture of Scott in his pilot’s uniform. My heart stopped. I could not believe it. One thing as a parent of a lost child that we miss is new pictures, showing them as they are now. No new pictures for us… Yet this man found a way to give us a gift not only from him but from Scott. Thanking us for allowing our son to give life to others.

I feel Scott is still here on earth, still alive inside these people. Not gone, just here differently.

Please have the donor discussion with your family. Think about what you want to do now. NOT during a time of crises. What if it was your child, your wife, your husband, or your parents? What would you do in this situation?

We are not asking you to decide to be a donor, we are simply asking you to really think about it and then have that talk. This is not a comfortable subject, but it is a discussion that could save lives.

We watch TV reports and read every day about the deaths on our streets; these things make us feel helpless as though we alone cannot make a difference. It seems overwhelming and the problems are larger than we can fix or change. So we do nothing. Organ donation is one issue you may be faced with in the future. I pray that you never have to make this decision but if it happens, will you be prepared? Please consider the discussion.

Thank You
Debbie and Mark Henry
Contact Debbie: 1dhenry@verizon.net
Scott Bolton’s Parents: A Tulsa Oklahoma Murder Victim

About the Author: Both Debbie and her husband, Mark, were born and raised in Southern Indiana. They moved to Texas in 1985 to offer their sons, Scott and Mark, a better education and career opportunity. They currently live in Argyle, Texas.

Debbie has worked at Premiere Laser Centre since 2001. She and Mark are active in their local church, Cross Timbers, Argyle campus. After the loss of both Debbie’s parents and her oldest son, Scott, she had to make a decision. Should she stay angry and let it rule her life or be part of the solution.

Debbie and Mark work consistently toward changing state laws. Debbie is a member of Denton County CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) including ongoing monthly classes as well as attending storm spotter training classes. Both she and her husband are grief group facilitators at Cross Timbers Church’s Journey Toward Joy bereavement program. At this time, Debbie is considering several new areas of service.

Debbie’s other writings:
Scott’s Story and His Family’s Loss (child murder)
Why Am I Angry?
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