Ten years ago, Brandon, a high school senior, finished his morning football practice and hopped in a jeep with some of his friends. Minutes later, the jeep he was riding in rolled. Brandon did not survive the accident. His friends and the community came together to grieve and show support to his family.
In another Utah community, Marlee was fighting for her own life as her kidneys were failing. A decision Brandon made when he received his driver license was about to change her life and the lives of four others on the organ transplant waiting list. He had marked yes to organ donation, and his family honored his wishes when given the option of donation. His friends organized an organ donation registration and awareness event in his honor and about a year after his death, Marlee and Brandon’s family were able to meet. Brandon left a legacy not only in his circle of family and friends, but within the relationship circles of the people whose lives he saved.
Currently, there are over 110,000 people in the United States who are waiting for a lifesaving organ transplant. In 2019, there were 11,870 deceased organ donors in the United States, who saved the lives of 39,719 people. These numbers each represent a person like Brandon and Marlee, and yet, there are still many misconceptions around donation.
Some people are concerned that preexisting medical conditions will prevent them from being a donor. The fact is very few medical conditions rule someone out as an organ donor. One example that may come as a surprise to many people is the ability to donate even if the donor has Hepatitis C. Thanks to recent medical advances people with Hepatitis C are often able to donate organs, with the recipient being treated for hepatitis after the transplant.
In order to be eligible to donate organs, a person must pass away in a hospital, on a ventilator, and the death is typically the result of a traumatic brain injury, often leading to brain death. The option of donation is only considered after every effort has been made to save the life of the patient. The option of donation is then discussed with the patient’s next of kin. The family is given time to process the information and to ask any questions they may have about the process.
The decision to donate does not typically interfere with funeral plans and the donor is able to have an open casket funeral if desired.
As the ten-year anniversary of Brandon’s death approaches, Marlee is doing great and enjoying the second chance for life she was given. She shares her story and talks about Brandon at every opportunity. She says she never takes life for granted and the transplant has given her a new appreciation for every new day. Brandon’s other kidney was transplanted in a young boy. That boy has since graduated from high school and is now older than Brandon was when he died. A woman who received one of Brandon’s corneas continues to see her children and the world clearly because of the gift of sight Brandon gave to her.
Brandon’s family will always miss him. The decision to honor his donation wishes was not an easy decision they made in a hospital room 10 years ago, but it has brought them comfort and peace over the years.
On August 8, people from around the state will virtually come together to honor donors and celebrate the gift of life by participating the in the 24th annual Dash for Donation 5K. In the past, this event drew hundreds of people together to laugh, cry and share stories. Because of COVID-19, the 2020 Dash will still bring people together emotionally, but not physically, in this virtual edition. Participants will run or walk in a location of their choice and take pictures to share online. A virtual memorial garden, highlighting the stories of those personally affected by donation, like Brandon and Marlee, can be found at https://www.donorconnect.life/dash-for-donation-memorial-garden/.