he-ro n. a person who, in the opinion of others, has heroic qualities or has performed a heroic act and is regarded as a model or ideal
he-ro-ic adj. extraordinarily bold, altruistic, determined; describing the deeds, attributes, etc. of heroes; syn. dauntless, valiant, valorous, brave, courageous
This was my first hero. My daddy.
This is how he looked when I was a little girl. Handsome. I have his smile….slightly crooked and drawn up on the right side. He was the first man I fell in love with. He taught me how to dance when I was 12-years-old. When I turned 18, he took time from his extraordinary busy and stressful day to take me to lunch at The Hotel in the little town where we lived. Then walked to the drug store just up the street and he told me to pick out the biggest bottle of perfume they had. I picked a big old bottle of Chantilly and every time I wore it, I thought of how special he made me feel that day. He gave me an extraordinary gift when I turned 16, a father’s blessing, and he took the time to record it. I still have the copy he transcribed and typed from his recording and I read through it from time to time to see if I am still measuring up to everything he hoped and dreamed I would be. He has been my hero my whole entire life….he left me far too soon.
This was my other hero.
You have to know that I was a very literal, fairy-tale believing, imaginative child. (Um….and yeah, I still am as an adult. True confession.) I never missed an episode of Superman on our little old black and white TV. Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Superman! This….THIS was my second hero. There was one episode I remember about a very sick little boy who could not walk. He needed to get to a certain hospital so they could mend his poor, lame little legs. His family couldn’t do it. Enter Superman…who FLEW that boy UP IN THE AIR to the hospital and that little boy had his thin little arms wrapped so tightly around Superman’s hero neck (just the way I did when my daddy carried me up to bed!) with a crazy big grin on his sickly little face! Holy cow. So every single night I said my prayers and asked for Superman to fly me somewhere. Even if I had to get sick to have him do it. No sacrifice was too great. Man…I so loved that guy.
So, I’ve been thinking a lot about heroes lately. And what makes a hero. I have come to a conclusion: Heroes are people who, in the throes of life, display courage they never knew they possessed, when the only other alternative was to simply wither or turn away. Heroes do not do extraordinary things. They do ordinary things extraordinarily. I do not believe that anyone asks to be a hero. There is an old saying that indicated that heroes are made, not born. I agree with that. I also believe that heroes happen. They are like a light that suddenly goes on. Undaunted heroes leak from history books. We put them out of our reach, I think, because they are out of our time. We hear of heroes nearly every single day. Their exploits are on TV, in the newspapers, we sing about them, dream about them at times and know many personally. We read about them in books. I just finished Unbroken. That book is full of heroes. Wars are full of heroes and their heroic deeds. But often time we do not hear about ordinary heroes. Unsung heroes. Heroes in our own communities. Heroes next door. You may know someone, but not realize they are a hero. You may not ever think of yourselves as heroic, but I bet you are.
Here’s another one of my heroes.
This is my great-nephew, Alex, who prefers to be called Gator. He’s just shy of his 8th birthday this April. He was born with Hypoplastic Left heart Syndrome. This little guy was born with basically half a heart….and half is a generous word. The first time I actually met Alex, he was tethered to an oxygen line, about a third the size of his second cousin Oliver, and these boys’ birthdays bump right into each other. His lips, fingertips and toes were blue. His skin so pale I could see tiny little roads of veins just below the surface. His little heart couldn’t get enough blood to all the parts of him. You can see spunk written all over that sweet little face. He is daring, full of life and love, funny, endearing, at times I am sure he is frustrating and typically a 7-year-old boy. He has endured so many surgeries…oftentimes more than once a year, but at least that. This is a picture of him in the hospital. He went in before Thanksgiving last year and unable to come home until he had a new heart. Alex sat on a heart donor list. He and his family waited nearly a year for a donor heart. When he went into the hospital, it was with the hope that a donor heart would be found before his broken little heart ceased to work. Alex is my hero. His parents are my heroes. His doctors are my heroes.
In order for Gator to live, he had to have a new heart. You do not get one of those at Costco. In order for him to have a chance at life, a child had to die. And that child’s parents had to be heroes when their child died. The whole entire time a world of us prayed for Gator to get a heart, there were those of us who also prayed for the donor family. Because we knew. I knew. I knew exactly what that meant.
Twenty-five year ago I stood in an emergency room looking down at my 11-year-old son who lay too still on an examination table. The doctor stood after doing everything he could and simply said, “I’m sorry. There is no brain activity.” “But he’s still breathing! His heart’s still beating! I can see it!” “That will all stop soon,” he added. So two things happened the moment he said that. There was the immediate voice that came to my mind and heart Mom, give them my organs at the exact same time I blurted out without even thinking, “He wants his organs donated!” I said it just like that. He wants…. I never thought it. It was out of my mouth before I could even think it. I had never even thought about organ donation and certainly just after I was told my son was dead, I wouldn’t have thought of it. He thought of it. It was the right thing to do. The doctor never mentioned it. Maybe because I didn’t even give him time. All I remember is that he made a very urgent call, we kissed our son goodbye and the nurses whisked us out of that room after a respectful amount of hurried time as the transplant team began the process of saving his beautiful organs. Everything done quickly to ensure viable organs
We received a letter in the mail the spring after our son’s death. Both of Logan’s kidneys and his lungs were harvested that September. His heart was too bruised. I always thought it was bruised because it broke and bruised our son’s heart to leave his family. It was likely due to the heroic efforts to save his life as we rode to the hospital in the ambulance. The letter indicated that four people were given the gift of life because of my son’s generosity. Four people saved and doing so well. Four people alive! Were they children? I have no idea. I have no knowledge of their names or where they live or if they are still alive or if they were children who received them. After learning the miracle of four lives, I made sure I was an organ donor when I renewed my driver’s license.
Late at night on January 22, 2015, our Gator and his family received news that there was a heart available. He was in surgery all night long as surgeons carved away layers of scar tissue for hours before they could even make their way into the chest cavity where his poor also-scarred, barely working heart was beating and then they removed it. That beautiful, healthy perfect heart, given with so much love and at such a great sacrifice, was sewn to Gator’s arteries and veins, the blood allowed to flow back into it, holes patched, monitors set to record every beat, every inhalation and exhalation. Gator pinked instantly. It worked. The ensuing week has been a roller coaster ride. He was bad at one moment, but perked. Plasmapheresis, oxygen, catheterization, tubes here and there, blood tests, heart biopsies to check for organ rejection, a bit of delirium when he did not recognize her mommy or daddy. Then he was extubated so he could talk! A huge gift. More tubes removed. A single-lumen PICC line exchanged for a double. Heart biopsies were clean–no signs of rejection. His sick little liver rallied. That little heart was a perfect match. Imagine that. IMAGINE! The one heart he needed, was the one heart he received. Perfect. A miracle. Albert Einstein said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” I’m of that everything is a miracle camp. We do live in an age of miracles. They surround us. This little guy is living proof….yes LIVING proof, of miracles. He is my hero. He has endured more than I can possibly imagine. The heart donor family are heroes. ALL those in Gator’s village: his school, his church, his family, the Make-A-Wish foundation, his little bake-sale-holding and piggy-bank proffering friends, sports heroes, firemen, policemen, doctors, nurses, technicians, FAMILY, various organizations, neighbors and heart buddies who now on wait lists and their families are ALL heroes. Thousands of people who donated time and money…that village is full of heroes. That alone….that tremendous surge of belief and love and hope and help was miraculous, my friends.
Would you like to become a hero? I am sure that there are many times in your lives when you are heroic. When you accomplish courageous feats of daring-do simply by the way you live your lives. I know and love so many of you out there and to me, you are my heroes. I have ridden on your shoulders so I could see my own life and future a lot clearer. Let me invite you to become heroes to those you do not know. Become an organ donor. Please. You can give the remarkable gift of life with your own last miraculous gifts.
More than 123,000 people in the United States are currently on the waiting list for a lifesaving organ transplant.
- Another name is added to the national transplant waiting list every 12 minutes.
- On average, 21 people die every day from the lack of available organs for transplant.
- Seven percent of people on the waiting list—more than 6,500 each year—die before they are able to receive a transplant.
- One deceased donor can save up to eight lives through organ donation and can save and enhance more than 100 lives through the lifesaving and healing gift of tissue donation.
- Organ recipients are selected based primarily on medical need, location and compatibility.
- Over 617,000 transplants have occurred in the U.S. since 1988.
- Organs that can be donated after death are the heart, liver, kidneys, lungs, pancreas and small intestines. Tissues include corneas, skin, veins, heart valves, tendons, ligaments and bones.
- The cornea is the most commonly transplanted tissue. More than 40,000 corneal transplants take place each year in the United States.
- A healthy person can become a ‘living donor’ by donating a kidney, or a part of the liver, lung, intestine, blood or bone marrow.
- More than 6,000 living donations occur each year. One in four donors is not biologically related to the recipient. Go here for more information: http://www.americantransplantfoundation.org/about-transplant/facts-and-myths
If you go to that site, you will find out all about the facts and myths concerning organ transplant….like some who believe that you cannot have an open casket funeral if you donate organs. Nope. You can be in full display, just without your heart, liver, lungs or corneas. They will be beating and working and seeing in someone else. Or that if you are really old when you die and you think, mistakenly, that everything else is really old and no one needs it, you are so wrong. There are still parts of you that would help some one else…old or not. Learn what you need to know from this site. You then leave your last wishes with your children or your spouse or those in charge of your estate, and you discuss it and write it down so your wishes are known. You determine what organs you wish to have donated; if you want your corneas donated; if you want skin or bones or whatever donated, it is up to you.
The next time you renew your license, become an organ donor. Tell your family your wishes. Read about what you can do at the American Transplant Foundation site. Become a hero of gigantic proportion. If some of you have the desire to leave something behind you after you die, let it be organs and whatever else that will give life to others. Those lives will be your legacy.
This is the cover of a book that is at least a million years old. Joe Strong, the Boy Fire Eater. He was a hero. He was just a kid. Joe Strong. Can you be Joe Strong? You don’t have to eat fire. Just become an organ donor. You have within you the power to give life. Women know what that is like…to give life. You can give life to those you do not know. Those who lie in hospital beds waiting for one last chance at life. There is no age discrimination with death. There are children, like Gator, who sit on the edge of it, hoping. The hospital where he is right now is full of children waiting for a chance at life.
I will forever be grateful for the sacrifice of that donor family, who gave that perfect little heart, so loved and so beautiful, to Gator. All his life that child’s heart will beat within him. I hope it is a good, long life for Gator. And that gratitude for life and his heart never escapes him. Not for one moment.