For the 18 years I have lived with a new liver and in my role as a community educator for an organ procurement organization (OPO), many have asked, “What is the transplant experience like?” While the experiences can vary among individuals, when asked, I go back to a favorite childhood movie, “Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory,” (Gene Wilder, 1972). For those who don’t remember the movie, it opens with Charlie, a desperately poor schoolboy living in a small ramshackle London home with his mother, four bed-ridden grandparents and little hope that his life will ever be better.
Many candidates and their families experience the similar feeling of helplessness when placed on the waiting list, knowing that only the “Gift of Life” offers hope for the future. Deep down there is always the fear and uncertainty of waiting until, or if, “The Call” comes with news an organ is available. After all, 18 people die every day in the United States waiting for a transplant.
Charlie’s version of “The Call” comes in the form of a “Golden Ticket” inside a candy bar he purchased with money found in a storm drain. The ticket promises an adventure by granting him admission to the previously hidden factory where never-before-seen Willy Wonka makes his world famous candy.
Entering the factory, like getting a transplant, begins a journey full of magical wonders, complicated machines, experiences that disorient and confuse, and at times terrifying unknowns. At the end of the movie, Charlie, Willy and Grandpa Joe, board a glass elevator that races to the roof and just when Charlie thinks they are going to die, it breaks through the glass ceiling revealing the factory and the city below. As Charlie is gazing out in wonder at the surroundings, Willy reveals that Charlie won the contest to be his heir to the chocolate empire.
The utter joy on Charlie’s face when he understands he can pursue his dreams and care for everyone in his life, is exactly how I felt when my liver transplant shattered the ceiling limiting my life. This analogy is the closest I have ever come to describing the transplant experience. Like Charlie, my dream for a new life was fulfilled by a complete stranger. As Charlie becomes heir to a candy making legacy, we, as recipients, are entrusted with our donor’s legacy through the “Gift of Life.”
For candidates and recipients, our heroes aren’t candy makers. The real heroes and most important individuals in the process are the donors and their families. Without their gift there would be no legacy, no hope and more that 28,500 people would not get a second chance each year in the United States.
As a staff member at the organization responsible for facilitating this gift, I get to witness first-hand the dedication of my co-workers accomplishing all the jobs necessary for the more than 116,000 patients on the transplant waiting list to have a second chance. Personally, my biggest honor is meeting and working with donor families. For many, volunteering with their local organ procurement organization is a way to honor their loved one’s gift.
Give Thanks. Give LIFE. Register today at www.donateLIFE.net.
Community Education Manager
You are invited to join Ron Packard [@LifelineofOhio] & Stephanie Zimmerman [@myHeartyrHands] as they join Amy Ohm [@treatdiariesceo] for a tweet chat on ALL things Organ Donation. Tuesday, 11/20 at 8pm EST.
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