Lakeshore Report – Organ Donation Celebrated Locally
April is National Donate Life Month. Currently there are more than 120,000 people in the United States waiting for an organ or tissue transplant, and more than 240 of those people live in Lake or Porter County. To encourage organ donation … Methodist Hospital Southlake and Porter Regional Hospital each held “Donate Life” celebrations this week. At those events, Lakeshore reporter Sarah Holst spoke with two local women those lives have been changed by these donations, and they say they chose to share their stories in the hopes of saving others.
At age 16, Linda Ramos was diagnosed with Type I Juvenile Diabetes. She says there were always complications, but in her earlier thirties, when Ramos became pregnant, the disease became more severe.
“My daughter ended up being born thirteen weeks premature, at a pound and a half. We got through that. Unfortunately two months later the retinas in both my eyes began to detach from the diabetes.” Ramos says.
A complete stranger helped return Ramos’ vision by agreeing to be an organ and tissue donor.
“They were actually able to use donor tissue to buckle the retina down so that I wouldn’t lose my eye. So that was an amazing gift and a life-enhancing gift that I received.”
Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be the last time Ramos received such a gift. Soon after, she developed Hypo-Glycemia Unawareness, a side effect of Diabetes which affected her pancreas.
Ramos says, “At that time they considered my condition no longer a chronic illness but a life threatening illness.”
She spent two years on the waiting list for an organ transplant.
“You first have to deal with that reality that, um, you’re dying, and you need a gift to be saved. But you also deal with knowing that gift is gonna come from a very bad situation. Um, its, someone’s gonna have to die. So I never prayed for a gift ’cause I knew God would take care of things in his own way.”
Ramos says the day she received her transplant was one of both celebration and grief… because she knew somewhere a family was in mourning.
Rhonda Berger experienced organ donation from a different perspective when her daughter Jennifer was killed in a fire in 2009.
Berger told Lakeshore, “Four hours later, after they had declared her dead and we told them that she was to be a donor, they had come back with us and told us that they had found three potential recipients for some of Jennifer’s organs. It was like a big relief. It’s like she wasn’t totally gone then, because a part of her was gonna be living on out there somewhere. It was just this big positive thing that was coming out of such a tragedy.”
Berger now volunteers her time to educate others about organ and tissue donation.
Mike Henderson is Donor Service Manager for the Indiana Lions Eye Bank, and a double kidney transplant recipient. He says there are still widespread misconceptions about donation. “One of the common myths is that it’s against my religion. And actually all the major religions do approve of organ, eye, and tissue donation as a charitable act but they do leave it up to the individual.” Henderson says.
Another common myth is that doctors will allow an organ donor to die in order to save someone else. Henderson says that simply isn’t true. He says, “When it comes to organ, eye, and tissue donation, there are always two completely separate teams who have two completely separate roles for organ, eye, and tissue donation.”
Donors can register their decision to give through an online registry or at any license branch.
Rhonda Berger reminds donors to “Make sure you talk to your family. You know, cause that made the decision easier for us, because we knew, you know, what she wanted.”
Linda Ramos recently celebrated the 11 year anniversary of her transplant. She told Lakeshore, “My life is better than ever, than I can ever remember it, from before age sixteen. Once you’re gone, you’re gone. It’s the one last chance you have to do something really compassionate and something really inspiring, and you can change so many lives and save so many lives, and why wouldn’t you want to?”
Rhonda Berger agrees, saying if she had it all to do over, she wouldn’t change a thing. “I couldn’t keep my daughter, but, you know, we allowed someone else to help keep theirs. You know, so, and that’s been a very rewarding and very positive thing for us. I’d do it again in a heartbeat. I would.”
Indiana residents can register as organ donors at www.donatelifeindiana.org.