AMU Emergency Management Health & Fitness Opinion Original Public Safety Resource

Human Donations: Making a Difference in People's Lives

By Dr. William Oliver Hedgepeth
Faculty Member, Transportation and Logistics Management, American Military University

On a day in January 2019, my brother-in-law Richard drove to the hospital because he was having trouble breathing. He stayed in the Wilson, North Carolina, hospital for five days before he was ready to go home.

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But on that final morning, the wearable cardioverter-defibrillator vest strapped to his chest went off 28 times, shocking his heart each time. Unconscious, Richard was driven or flown to three other hospitals until he arrived at the Duke University Medical Center in Durham.

Richard spent 22 days at Duke with dozens of doctors and about two dozen different nurses working on his heart, lungs and other parts of his failing body. A few minutes after he died, a staff member at the center came into the room and quietly spoke to his sister.

She asked if her brother had ever considered becoming an organ donor. Organ and tissue donor parts were in high demand across North Carolina.

These donor parts could be used for patients facing death from an auto accident or to help someone recovering from being burned in a home fire. Even a jaw bone could be used to give back a face, jaw and teeth to a woman.

Donor Service Organizations Exist Across the US

There is a network of donor service organizations across the U.S. North Carolina has Carolina Donor Services. In Virginia, this type of organization is Donor Life Virginia, and in Alaska, it is Life Alaska Donor Services.

According to my wife, more than 50 different parts of her brother’s body were harvested and donated to help other people live a better life. Parts that can be harvested include organs, such as a kidney, liver or lungs. Other potential donations are corneas, tissues, hands, face, blood stem cells, cord blood, bone marrow, blood and platelets.

According to the Health Resources & Services Administration, there were over 113,000 men, women and children on the national transplant waiting list as of July 2019.

Meeting with Other Donors

My wife and I attended a Donor Family Tribute in Greenville, North Carolina, sponsored by the Carolina Donor Services (CDS). Our name was originally not on the invitee list, because we had debated for three months after the invitation arrived whether we wanted to be around other people who had lost loved ones.

Eventually, about 200 people of different races and ages filled the room. Then a speaker asked if anyone would like to tell about their loved one who donated to help others live.

One woman told of finding her 15-year-old son in his room trying to hang himself. It took three days for him to die of his suicide. Then she happily told how his hand had been given to another young boy who had lost his in an accident and how her son’s eyes would make another person see for the first time in years.

The stories went on for about three hours. When we gathered to leave, my wife and I and those 200 people were equals. We were friends, almost like long-lost relatives. There was no age or race or illness separating us. We all treated each other the same way.

Something changed in us during this donor tribute. The 200 or so people with their common loss at that tribute found a gain. Knowing that their loved one was alive as a small part of someone else gives comfort to us who have been left with such grief.

The donor process was not around when our parents died. If it had been, my visit to their graves would have a brought a little more happiness to us, knowing someone is walking around with their heart or another part of them.

Please sign a donor’s card in your state so when your time comes, you can join the supply chain of life. We have.

About the Author

Dr. Oliver Hedgepeth is a full-time professor at American Military University (AMU). He was program director of three academic programs: Reverse Logistics Management, Transportation and Logistics Management and Government Contracting. He was Chair of the Logistics Department at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Dr. Hedgepeth was the founding Director of the Army’s Artificial Intelligence Center for Logistics from 1985 to 1990, Fort Lee, Virginia.

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