Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Last Blog - Full Circle

Recently I was asked to speak at a donor family celebration in Reno. Each year Donor Network West honors the families of those, that in their passing, became organ and tissue donors and thereby saved and improved the lives of countless people and their families. As I reflected upon this miraculous blessing in my own life I thought back on all of the moments and memories that I have had in these past nine years. I have seen 7 grandsons born, we have traveled the world and found countless natural and cultural discoveries, both at home and abroad, I was able to return work for eight years and thereby helped in curing cancers and improving countless lives. I still spend every day with the love of my life, which is the best gift of all. I wrote a book. I became a pilot. So many more moments of beauty communing with nature and communicating with others which are innumerable; all because of a heart.
Memories continued to pull me back. I was laying in pre-op at Stanford University Friday evening on August 15, 2008. The last beats of my old heart counting down the seconds with just over 14,000 remaining. A nurse informed me that my new heart was on its way from Reno. The only information that she could share was that he was 6' 2" tall - my height. I began to think about the terrible grief that must have overcome his family. But I had to focus on the moments just ahead of me. I was not afraid at all. This was the most right of all moments. How often do we get to remember the moment just prior to being born? I was so happy.
The next morning I woke up, what an understatement. Consciousness; I was me again. I felt indescribably infinite gratitude. I was luminous.
Three days later was my 49th birthday. As I laid awake in the darkness as my thoughts returned to my donor's family. All I wanted to do was thank them, I wondered if that could ever happen. In my mind I wrote the following blog and posted it a week later.

August 15 was the day that two worlds were uniquely united, and at the coeur of it all, a heart. This heart had already lived a lifetime in my donor. Each beat becoming the sum of his existence. Altogether they wove a tapestry of color and life that reflected all of his joys and sadness, his longings and toil. The heart was his witness and his strength, unfaultable in marking each moment, constant. But then, the unthinkable occurred, and as his life silently slipped away, his heart kept going, awaiting a new life. In that moment, my donor made the ultimate final gift, his heart to me.

My own heart has served me so well. I have experienced more joy and fulfillment in one lifetime than most men would have in three. But my heart was worn out, ravaged by disease and struggling daily to keep me going, and soon, it had marked its last beat.

While I lay there on the operating table, for at least an hour, I had no heart inside my chest. My survival was maintained only through machines and technology under the skilled hands of committed doctors and nurses. And then, his heart was placed inside me, and my life began again. I had a new heart, but it is not completely mine, nor will it ever be. For it is a shared heart. This shared heart has already lived a lifetime and must be remembered as such.

This must be why I have the strong desire to hug everyone. A hug, in such a simple act, can bring two hearts together, marking a brief moment of friendship. I feel like I should share my shared heart with others. I will honor the memory of my donor by offering his gift to others with a hug.

Two things that heartbeats and hugs have in common are that they are both strong symbols of the importance of being in the present. Past regrets and future concerns have no place in the moment of presence. What I have learned from all of this is to cherish the present.

My dream is that someday, if allowed, I may meet the family of my donor and through the simple act of a hug, reunite them with him, one more time in the present.

In memory of my donor and his family.
Please say a prayer for them.

 August 27, 2008
I finished my remarks and the meeting ended with a video remembrance of each donor whose family was present that day. This was a week ago Saturday. The first photo was of Shane, my donor. I did not expect this. I had met Shane's aunt 2 years ago after she had contacted me wanting to meet Barbie and me in Roseville, CA, however, st that time, Shane's parents were understandably still not ready to cross that emotional bridge. A week prior to the Reno donor celebration I had invited Shane's aunt, Patty, to come to the meeting, Through Donor Network West she had his photo included in the video presentation. As it appeared she then whispered to me, "Bev is coming." I couldn't hide my emotion; would my dream from nearly nine years ago really come true in the next few minutes? The meeting ended and, as I got up to move to the front of the room, I turned around and saw a woman I had never before seen looking at me and smiling. In my heart I knew who she was as she said, "I am Beverly." I quickly moved forward and as I hugged her I said, "I am Kevin. Thank you for my life." In that moment the heart of a son was reunited with his mother. He was home.
Barbie was soon at my side, the reunion was almost complete. Within minutes we were joined by most of Shane's immediate family. I met his older sister and her daughter, who was born soon after her uncle's death, his 92 year old grandmother was there, his uncle and finally his cousin who only two years ago received a kidney-pancreas transplant which simultaneous cured his kidney failure and diabetes. We had come full circle, two men, cousins, one a donor and one a recipient; no one can deny the magnitude of the impact of these life altering decisions experienced by this family.
We visited for a time, we spoke of Shane, we hugged and then parted ways.
I am who I am because of so many decisions. Many were mine, but many were not. Years prior to his death, Shane told his father that if he ever died, he wanted to be an organ donor. Later, when the family was approached concerning organ donation they checked his wallet and there it was on his license -DONOR. We are nothing by ourselves. It is only through our shared experiences, sacrifices, relationships and love that we can ever feel true joy; that we ever fully become complete. A man died and I still live. Another Man died and I will, and Shane will and each of us will live forever. And this is why my cup of gratitude will forever be overflowing
Thank you for your interest and caring


Hearts Reunite

Shane's Family

Shane - My Hero