Mount Airy students learned Tuesday that “Spring into Life” isn’t just about gardening, through personal testimonies given by organ transplant recipients during an assembly yesterday.
The assembly was organized by the Mount Airy High School (MAHS) Interact club in recognition of April as donate life month. It was sponsored by the License to Give Trust Fund Commission. The 15-member commission was formed in 2005. Through this program, every person signs up to be a donor on their vehicle’s license, with a nickel per person per year taken from the sign-up funds and given to the the commission.
Carolina Donor Services/Community Relations Coordinator Beth Hinesley asked for a show of hands of persons who knew of someone needing a transplant and said it surprises people how many locally are affected. She said a total of 113,000 people across the United States and 3,500 in North Carolina are awaiting organ transplants.
She told students that typically heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, pancreas and small intestines are the organs used for life saving transplants. She said there is no age limit on donors, the oldest currently being 91 years and the youngest, five days old. Students can indicate they wish to be a donor but the age of consent in North Carolina is 18 years.
“I hope you’ll think about this,” said Hinesley. “Please share your wishes with your family.”
Anthony Mason, a liver transplant recipient, attended the event with his parents, Rex and Joyce Mason. He told the students about how a routine blood test where he was informed he could not give blood was ignored. Mason, who was then a soccer coach and an avid two-man volleyball team player, years later gave in to his mother’s request for an examination and was diagnosed with an enlarged spleen.
Mason said he refused to give up doing what he loved and ignored the doctor’s warnings he could rupture the spleen while playing sports. Finally he had surgery scheduled in 1996 when his spleen was removed. Results from this indicated he was in the early stages of liver cirrhosis. The results were a two on the ten-point scale used to rank the disease. He continued to compete in volleyball nationally and internationally but got steadily worse.
Mason said he was placed on the liver transplant list in 1998 and that his weight went from 205 pounds to 155 pounds in 15 months.
“I woke up twice and couldn’t see,” said Mason. “It scared me. Toxins in my blood were affecting me. I had to take a nap after dressing. I moved back in with my parents who helped take care of me.”
Mason said that one year after his liver transplant, he was backpacking in Europe and participated in the Transplant Games 2002 four times, winning three medals. He told students he was not a public speaker but now he is helping with a mentor program at UNC for transplant donor families.
“People with transplants do go on,” added Mason. “The big thing I learned is life is not fair. It’s what you do with your trials and how you carry yourself that’s important. Make an educated decision about being a donor.”
Baptist Hospital Nurse Jan Frye Hill, whose mother was an organ recipient, also spoke to students.
“I didn’t think my decision to be a donor would affect me,” said Hill. She told students about how her mother, an active community supporter, had called her to complain about being persistently “petite.” Hill encouraged her to see a doctor, thinking her mother’s blood work would indicate she was anemic. The final diagnosis for her mother was liver cirrhosis and her doctor said she had to be put on the donor list.
“I thought we’d get the call and all would be well,” said Hill. Two years went by. Her mother’s doctor said she had two months left to live before the call came in June of 1994. “As we celebrated we could not help but think of the donor family’s courage,” added Hill. “I got to have every girl’s dream of having my mother at my wedding.”
Hill explained that her husband, Jim, was inspired by her story and chose to be a donor. Three months into their marriage, Jim was killed when a motorist struck him as he was getting in his car. Hill had planned on picking up Jan to do Christmas shopping.
“I couldn’t imagine,” added Hill. “I had a whole future ahead. We’d been planning it the night before.” Five days before that Christmas, Jim Hill made a difference in the life of others as she honored his wishes. “I was struggling to survive this. I thought what a unique recipient I was to have a mother who was a recipient and husband who was a donor.” She became a volunteer.
Later, Hill was to meet one recipient who benefited from Jim’s gift. She said the kidney recipient was a six-foot, two-inch former serviceman who was struggling to tell his 4-year old daughter good-bye. The family told Hill when they received the call they got down on their knees and gave thanks for being given life at their worst moment.
Hill told told the group her mother died 16 years after the transplant.
“She made a difference with the gift that was given to her,” concluded Hill. “I am comforted by her work. She was able to donate her eyes and continue the gift she was given. I have lost members of my family through this but I am so blessed to help others through the process of transplantation. I have my own family in a different way.”
Rotary President Kate Appler thanked the school for participating in the event and thanked event organizer Regina Edwards for her work writing the grant to help make the event possible.
“This is important stuff we’re doing here,” said Appler. “Any age can be affected. This isn’t just about old people. Not only could you be a giver you might be a recipient. A life can go on for somebody else. These are life altering, life saving stories. Your job is to think about this and talk with your parents.”
Computers will be made available at MAHS later for students to sign up to be a donor.
David Broyles can be reached at dbroyles@heartlandpublication or at 719-1952.