Tissue donors can help up to 50 peopleWritten by Brigitta Burks | News Editor | BBurks@toledofreepress.com
Striking up a conversation about tissue donation before a loved one dies can make things easier for everyone, said Reg Dawson, director of Community Tissue, which organizes local tissue donations.
“If you’re not interested in donation, that’s fine, just tell your loved one,” he said.
“If it’s something that you want to do, yes, tell your loved one because you don’t know when [death’s] going to happen. And I hear so often, ‘We never talked about it.’”
Community Tissue, which has locations all over the country, has been in Toledo since 2002 and serves 28 hospitals in the area.
Dawson said there are three categories of donation: organ, tissue and cornea. Tissue donations can include skin, bones, heart valves and ligaments. Community Tissue handles tissue and cornea donations while Life Connection of Ohio handles organ donations.
“To become an organ donor, you have to be brain dead, meaning there’s no blood flow to the brain. So those people have a beating heart, but if you were to take them off a ventilator, they wouldn’t breathe on their own,” Dawson said. “To be a tissue donor or a cornea donor, you have to sustain cardiac death, meaning your heart has stopped.”
About 54 percent of Ohioans are on the donor registry, which you can sign up for at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. Although this figure is higher than many states’, Dawson said, there is still a need for more donors.
“We sometimes find it difficult to meet the needs of burn patients,” he said. For burn victims, donated skin can act as a natural bandage, keeping infection out and moisture in.
Some people have misconceptions about becoming donors, he said.
They are sometimes worried about being able to have an open casket or show the body in cases of skin donation. However, the graft comes from the legs and the back.
It’s also a misconception that certain religions frown on donation, he said.
“The religions that don’t support donation are Shintos from Japan and European Gypsies,” Dawson said.
He added, “Some people are afraid to put themselves on the registry. They think, ‘People won’t take care of me. They’ll see that I have the heart on my driver’s license and I won’t get the care that I need.’
“My response to that is I would think a hospital would do everything they can to keep you alive to pay your bill and no one has ever argued that.”
Whenever there is a death in the area, Community Tissue receives a call from the hospital or coroner’s office.
Community Tissue then checks to see if the individual is on the donor registry and if there are restrictions on what can be donated.
Whether a person is on the list or not, the deceased’s family is contacted.
If the family declines donation and, “[The deceased] have not placed themselves on the registry, we say, ‘Thank you very much,’ and once more offer condolences for their loss and that’s it.
“If [the deceased] have placed themselves on the registry [and the family still says no], we ask them if there’s anything we can do to help them understand that their loved one has said yes. We’re not gonna twist arms,” he said. “Legally, could we perform the recovery? Yes … we choose not to because the family is not in a very good place and we step away.”
If approval is granted, the funeral home is contacted and the body is brought to Community Tissue where the tissue recovery takes place. The tissue is then processed at Community Tissue’s headquarters in Dayton and later distributed through Community Tissue in Toledo.
An average tissue donor can help or save 50 people.
Bruce Joseph, a financial adviser at Directions Credit Union, is one of those people whose quality of life was improved by a donation.
A high school football injury led to several knee surgeries — two of his surgeries involved donor parts.
“If it weren’t for those surgeries and if it weren’t for the donors, I wouldn’t be as active as I am,” said the 43-year-old dad of three.
In his early 30s, his original surgery, which was done from his own bone graft, was deteriorating.
“What really got difficult was when my middle child was an infant. I would lay down on the living room floor and play with him and then I noticed it was difficult for me to get off the floor,” he said, adding that it also hurt to climb the stairs while holding his baby.
“I’m thinking, ‘This is not any way for somebody to live,’” Joseph recalled.
“When they told me they could take a donor’s ligament or tendon and create a ligament out of it, I though that was just the coolest thing ever. It almost sounds like science fiction,” he said.
Now, Joseph can stay active and is also the coach of his son’s baseball team. He also volunteers for Community Tissue by speaking to donor families.
Denien Wilde, who works in the medical field, is in a donor family. About four years ago, her 2-month-old son Quinn, who had a seizure disorder, died.
“I had declared myself a donor years before. I never thought I would be in a position to make that decision for one of my children,” she said.
She and her husband decided to donate their son’s heart valves.
“I really think that our grief would be very different if we hadn’t made the decision to donate his heart valves,” Wilde said. “It’s just been something really positive and beautiful to think about and hold on to.”
Wilde also wrote a children’s book, “Who Will Feed My Goldfish?” based on her family’s experience.
“When we were at hospice, my brother said to my daughter, ‘Now Quinn will be able to help feed your goldfish in heaven,’” she said. “The book just basically expresses that God loves all creatures and we go to heaven and live with God and have what we need.”
Wilde has not met the heart valve recipients’ families yet.
“It’s entirely up to them to initiate that. I hope that it happens someday, but I realize that it might not. It’s such an emotional, sensitive thing,” she said.
To learn more, visit www.communitytissue.org.