Lynn Parker, a wife and mother of four children who worked at Beaumont Hospital, knew very little about The Gift of Life organization in the early summer of 2007. She was cleaning out the school records of her son Tim, who had just graduated from Troy Athens, when she noticed instructions on how to be an organ donor by registering on-line. She set it aside. Lynn had a brief conversation with Tim about it and both agreed it was a good idea.
"After all that happened, I just don't believe in coincidences anymore," Lynn told me.
What happened, was the worst parental nightmare. Tim, who was employed for the summer at a pizzeria, went out to party with co-workers before heading to college in the fall. He didn't return from the party.
He was the designated driver, but he was tired and a mile and half away from his home, in the early morning, his Dodge Intrepid was in terrible accident. His passengers and those in another vehicle were hurt, but not badly, but Tim's body was broken.
Lives changed in an instant
Lynn and her husband received the call no parent should ever have to answer and in a daze, they rushed to the hospital to find that their beloved son was in very critical condition. As the haze cleared, Lynn began to realize that it was possible that her son was not going to live.
"Our lives changed in an instant. It was horrible. We had incredible support from friends, family, our priest, but our son was going to die. I wasn't being pessimistic, I was being realistic."
Lynn and the family learned that Tim could be a organ donor and save lives. Lynn remembered the conversation she had just had with her son. The decision was made.
"Then the story takes a better turn. There are so many things to do when a family member dies. What really sustained me that week, was knowing that families and people would benefit from Tim's organ donation. It has a huge ripple effect because Tim gave seven people organs: two lungs, pancreas, two kidneys, his liver and Tim gave his heart. There were seven different families and friends and future children, grandchildren who benefited from Tim's donation.
I agreed to receive letters from recipients. One recipient wrote he would be able to see his daughters grow up. It gave me a lot of comfort. The pain of losing my son is horrible, but knowing that others were getting calls about lives that were changed really helped. When I personally met the recipient of Tim's lung, I saw firsthand the power of the gift of life."
About a year later Lynn reflected on how her son's donations had positively impacted her life and she began to get involved in the donor family community. She joined the Michigan Donor Family Council and began attending Gift of Life events. The people she met embraced her and Lynn has made lifelong friends as result. Lynn spoke glowingly about the work and the people involved with the Gift of Life organization.
Gift of Life is an organization that literally changes lives. Royal Oak resident Kandy Novotny, left her career in the for-profit medical field in 2010 to join Gift of Life.
"I wanted to do something that had meaning and I found it in Gift of Life. The stories of both organ recipients and donors are so inspirational. Our work can be filled with paradox as we work with both the end of life and renewal of life. Our job is to be very respectful of everyone we touch in the process."
Kandy explained that not while not everyone is interested in becoming eligible to be a donor, those that are interested can greatly increase the potential by signing up for the Michigan Organ Donor Registry. Kandy directed me to the Gift of Life website which explained what they do:
Gift of Life Michigan, headquartered in Ann Arbor, is the state's only federally designated organ and tissue recovery program, providing all services necessary for organ donation to occur in Michigan. We’re a non-profit organization working 24 hours a day all over the state as a liaison between donors, hospitals and transplant centers.
Gift of Life was incorporated in 1971 by Michigan transplant surgeons to provide a network for sharing kidneys. Today, Gift of Life recovers more than 900 organs every year for transplantation from 300 or more donors, saving hundreds of lives. Bone, skin and other tissue also is recovered, helping to significantly improve the lives of thousands of seriously injured and sick recipients. Gift of Life also works with Michigan Eye-Bank to manage cornea and eye donation.
In addition, Gift of Life maintains and grows the Michigan Organ Donor Registry in partnership with the Michigan Secretary of State. The registry is a confidential database of state residents who have expressed their desire to someday help others by becoming an organ, eye and tissue donor.
There are approximately 3,000 people who are on the organ transplant waiting list in Michigan. Last year there were 792 organ transplants in our state. Only about one percent of people that die would present the right circumstances for a successful transplant. Those statistics show why everyone of us who signs up can help improve the challenging odds a person on waiting list faces.
Becoming a donor
These statistics represent real people, people who are in communities, our schools, our jobs, our neighborhoods. People who lives are in suspense, waiting for a gift to change their lives.
While Michigan has made strides recently in improving the percentage of people who sign up for organ and tissue donation, we're still near the bottom compared to other states. That's why I'm writing this column, hopefully bringing attention of the opportunity to participate in leaving an incredible inheritance of life.
I wouldn't try to convince anyone that becoming a donor is the right thing for you. That's a personal decision. But if you are inclined to learn more and/or sign up, the Gift of Life stands ready to answer your questions and show the way.
They say: "It takes less than one minute to sign up online – you can save a life”
The link to the Gift of Life website is: www.giftoflifemichigan.org
Lynn Parker is courageous mother who suffered a great loss and who gained solace from her son's donations. In addition to the seven organs Tim donated, tissue donations were used in 150 procedures, benefitting even more lives. One of those donations was made to Lynn, who now carries her son with her in a profound way.
I continue to be amazed and humbled by a world filled with pain and sorrow, but more than countered by joy and generosity.
It's Tuesday: Let's go!
Columnist Gerry Boylan is the author of the novel: Getting There and the short story collection Gerry Tales. Both can be found at Amazon.com and the Yellow Door in Berkley Michigan. His website is: