Six years ago this month, Lisa Peabody's fourth child, her toddler, passed away. She was only 15-months-old. 63 days earlier, at the age of 13 months, Caroline was diagnosed with a brain tumor.
Caroline passed out of the Peabody's lives but then, almost miraculously, into the lives of strangers.
"Every day while I sat there with her, hoping and hoping and hoping," says Lisa Peabody, of Bethesda, Maryland, recalling her days in the ICU with her rosy-cheeked, blonde and blue-eyed baby, "everyday the bells would ring and the beepers would go off and the nurses and doctors would shoo me out ... I learned every day that so many of these children were losing a life because they needed an organ, they needed a kidney, they needed a liver, they needed a heart. And I just couldn't believe that people weren't giving. Why weren't people helping while I was watching these babies die?" Peabody says, incredulous, wiping tears from her eyes.
Even as their own child died, it ultimately wasn't a hard decision for Lisa and her husband, Chris, as they began to discuss organ donation.
"Can't we do something good ... can't we help someone?" they asked each other. "We can't be helped," Peabody remembers telling her husband, [but] she has a whole body filled with working pieces."
A tiny little hero, standing no more than two-and-a-half feet tall, Caroline saved many lives. By donating her pulmonary arties, she saved the life of a child in grave need of a transplant. Caroline's heart values, too, saved the life of yet another child. And, still Caroline gave the gift of sight to two more people by donating her corneas. "And I'm very proud to say we helped some other families out there, very proud," Peabody concludes on a video she made and uploaded to YouTube as part of a donor organ awareness campaign produced by the Washington Regional Transplant Community (WRTC). Each day in April, Organ Donation Awareness Month (designated in 2003), 30 Days, 30 Stories, features the emotional story of donor families, recipients and even those who lost loved ones because there was no donation.
DeShawn McMillan of Fort Washington, Maryland lost her mother because some one failed to donate a liver. "If you think about how many people there are in the world ... [yet] we have so many people that are on a waiting list and I think if you just make a conscious decision of signing up to be an organ donor, we can all give something to each other."
18 people die every day, due to the lack of organs available for transplant.
Every 11 minutes, a new name is added to the national list.
The average wait for a kidney transplant is 5 years.
"Being an organ donor doesn't cost money, doesn't cost time, doesn't take practice, all the excuses and challenges that we always associate with things," says Kati Penney of Bethesda, Maryland whose daughter Katrina, now in first grade, received a heart donation at the age of 9 months. "Organ donation [is] really just making a decision."
While WRTC's 30 Days, 30 Stories campaign is a DC Metro Area (Maryland, Virginia, DC) project, the power of the world wide web has taken this small but emotional project nationwide, even international, because of the powerful on-line site, YouTube.
Organ donation is a relatively new phenomenon. The first successful transplant was a kidney transplant from a live donor performed in 1954. But according to John Ogden, Senior Public Affairs Associate for WRTC, the first donation by a deceased person was performed in 1962, also a kidney transplant. It would be 10 years before the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act established the donor card which no longer exists, though undoubtedly there are those with that card still in their wallets.
By the late 70s, state-run organ donation programs began cultivating relationships with their individual state motor vehicles departments. Currently, every state in the country but Vermont, has a relationship with their DMV which will automatically ask every registering motorist if s/he will register as an organ donator.
Within the past four years, state donation organizations have begun working together, and the efforts have paid off according to Ogden. There is a now a national on-line registry, www.donatelife.net with links to each individual state-run donor organization in all 50 states.
The new, group-effort is paying off. Currently, 86.3-million people are registered donors in the United States, that's 37.1-percent of all U.S. residents over the age of 18, a 24.4-percent increase since 2007, with an 8-percent-plus increase between 2008 and 2009 alone. In the past three years, Donate Life America says there have been 82-thousand organ transplants, approximately 120-thousand cornea transplants and millions of tissue transplants.
"Briana is ... is the unsung hero who gave Katrina her heart," says Penney who after the transplant sent bi-yearly photos of her own daughter to Briana's mother. Finally, "we received a letter from [Briana's] mother who talked to us about how it has taken her a bit of time to heal. But each year as she receives the cards and letters from us and looks through Katrina's pictures, it makes it a little easier to know that there's another little girl who is out there and is blessed because of Briana."
Kat Clifford of Herndon, Virginia lost her daughter Kylie only three months after Kylie's birth. Her decision to donate her daughter's organs "took probably three minutes. Kylie was gone we couldn't get her back but could we give someone else something? Yes," says Clifford on her WRTC produced, YouTube video.
"In such a time of tragedy and loss looking back [donor families are] able to see the donation as some sort of silver lining," says Ogden. "Nothing is ever going to bring your loved one back, but to know that there are people out there living and breathing today literally because of your loved one. That is an experience that very few people actually have but organ and tissue donor family members."
"Every recipient will tell you the call is an incredible moment in their lives that they will never forget, says Kathryn Turner of Bethesda, Maryland who is alive today because of a much needed liver transplant. "It was a moment of terror, joy and deep sadness because I knew that someone had lost someone they dearly loved... This made me a tremendously kinder, gentler patient person and I look for ways to do something to help someone else. I write my donor family several times a year, just to let them know how much I appreciate this gift, how much I care about them, how much I respect and love their loved one and how I try to keep my body healthy to preserve what has been given to me," says Turner on day 28 of the 30 Days, 30 Stories video.
"I feel as if the gift of life I've been given by this young lady, I was given for a reason," says James Selby of Capitol Heights, Maryland who received a heart and kidney from a 17-year-old victim of a motorcycle accident. He believes he was given the gift of life "so that I could live on and ... be productive for the both of us."
Facts, right and wrong:
• A majority of U.S. adults now wish to be organ or tissue donors: 56% up from 50% a year ago.
• 75% of those surveyed want their donation wishes fulfilled regardless of family desires.
• 52% of people incorrectly believe that doctors may not try as hard to save their lives if they know they are registered organ or tissue donors.
• 19% of people are not sure they would be acceptable donors.
• 48% of people incorrectly believe a black market exists in the U.S. for organs and tissue, up from 44% in 2009.
• 16% of people incorrectly believe a regular funeral is not possible following donation, this percentage is up from 13% in 2004.
• 61% mistakenly believe it is possible for a brain dead person to recover from his or her injuries.