Friday, August 25, 2017

Happy 23rd Birthday, Dad! A tribute to Organ Donation

Today I'm coming out of my blog-hibernation for a very special and personal reason.  Today, my dad celebrates his "23rd Birthday."  

That's right.  Twenty Three.  

My Dad's HS (or college) graduation

For those of ya'll that have been following Vivid Hue Home for several years, you probably recall my annual shout out to my dad celebrating yet another year with a transplanted organ.  

See his previous celebrations here:  

On August 25, 1994, my dad received an organ transplant.   Prior to that date, he had been in the transplant recipient program for close to a year and a half.  Once he showed signs of advanced organ failure, he was moved to a critical wait list.  He received a pager (a sign of the times in 1994) and carried it with him day and night in hopes that he would be contacted about a donor.  Within a week of being put on this list, he received the call.

My dad's donor was a sixteen year old teenager who died in a car accident.   In a weird twist of fate, my dad was not the first person called that morning to receive the organ.  A different patient was called first and she excitedly rushed to the hospital only to learn that her cavity in which the organ was to be placed was too small to fit the available organ.  As her family must have experienced anguish and disappointment, my family stood by hopefully to see if my dad would be compatible.  And he was.  Though we have never known the donor or his/her family, their unselfish decision to donate has allowed my family to experience over two additional decades with my dad.

One of my favorites.  My dad give me a kiss during a military promotion ceremony

Prior to the transplant, I remember thinking that my dad's days were "numbered."  It's an ominous feeling to realize that without a miraculous medical intervention, your loved one's body is not stable enough to survive on it's own.  Once the transplant happened, I was a bit naive in thinking that now my dad's health was 100% restored.  Sure, after a few months of recovery, I could see a new energy and appreciation for life restored in my dad.  But I was a bit in the dark about how much the body would continually have to work to KEEP the organ.  

My wedding day.  Wow, that smile looks odd.  I believe I was talking to my dad thru my teeth while trying to smile!

One aspect of organ transplantation I don't know if many understand, is that organ rejection is a constant threat.    The transplant recipient's life is forever altered, requiring them to take daily combinations of anti-rejection medication for the rest of their lives (the body's natural reaction is to reject the new organ as a foreign object).  Maintaining health isn't a straight forward path.  

 Often there are severe side effects and health conditions that result from taking these drugs.  It's common for doctors to make frequent adjustments to the combination of drugs.  And sometimes, other organs can become at risk due to the prolonged use of these medications.  It's a courageous journey, but one I'll bet most transplant recipients would say is worth it for the reward of life. 

My parents.  My dad wears so many "Dewey Beach" t-shirts, he's earned the name Grandpa Dewey

Something I've only recently realized is that there is a higher incidence and risk of death from skin cancer in transplant patients*.  *Source: Skin Cancer Foundation  
One of the clearest causes, is the the anti rejection drugs that patients must take reduce the ability of the immune system to detect and defend against the cancer.  The most common skin cancers after transplant surgery are squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), basal cell carcinoma (BCC), melanoma and Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC), in that order.
My parents are still so active and travel long as it's a beach, they're game.  

But my dad doesn't go anywhere without a sun hat, sunscreen and an umbrella! (my adorns nephew Townes). 
Unfortunately, my dad has not been immune to these skin cancers.  He endures a rigorous regimen of continually removing and biopsying these cancers.  In fact, yesterday, he underwent two surgeries lasting 5 hours to remove skin cancer from his ear and his head.  Sometimes, the removal spots require up to 10 stitches or more.  My goal in mentioning this is not to share gritty personal details from my dad's journey.  But I hope to shed light on some of the often unspoken trials that a transplant survivor endures.  It takes a strong and courageous individual to walk this journey...and again, I am positive that my dad wouldn't trade it for anything because he's alive.  

I have been so incredibly blessed to have my dad with me for my important milestones in my life.  I used to pray that he be healthy and present to see me graduate from college (23 years ago).  When I reached that milestone, I wanted to make sure he could walk me down the aisle on my wedding day (12 years ago).  Meet my children (now 9 and 10).  See me be successful in a career....  It has taken me some time to learn how to stop "numbering" my dad's time with me and simply enjoy each day that I have with him (and my mom, of course).  
At my sister, Brett's wedding (with husband Michael). 

My dad enjoys reading a book with Vivi (Smidge)

I never like to push my beliefs on others, but I do strongly believe in organ donation.   
Can you believe that one donor can save 8 lives? 
There are 117,000 men, women and children on the wait list for an organ.  
Only 3 people in 1000 die in a way that allows their organs to be used for a transplant.  
That leaves a lot of need without a lot of supply.  
Read more about these statistics here.  (Source: Dept of Human Health and Services, Why Donate).  

To my dad, here's to another celebration!  You are such a strong and courageous person.  You are a true soldier in many ways and I will always look up to you.   Love you!