Sunday, September 27, 2015

Peyton Gave Us Hope

"Remember Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies."
-Stephen King, Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption

I'll never forget October 10, 2014.  that was the day we were told that Peyton was going to die.  A CAT scan had revealed that his brain was dying, and that it was not a question of "if", but "when". At least we knew what was going to happen.  It crushed my soul beyond comprehension, but now the out come was determined.  I knew plans and decisions would have to be made.  At least one of them would be easy.  Peyton's organs would be donated.

The idea had first been presented to me by my friend Jeff.  I didn't want to think about it until I had to, but now that the time was upon me, I knew it was the right thing to do.  I approached Peyton's mother, and we talked about the appropriate course of action.  Something positive would have to come of this tragedy, and giving others a chance at life seemed like the best course of action.

When the time came, we donated Peyton's heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, pancreas, and corneas.  All in all, 8 people received transplants from Peyton, including an 8 month old baby that received part of his liver, a seven year old girl that received one of his corneas, and a 17 year old boy that received his heart.  I cried as I read the notices from the Lions Eye Bank and the Texas Organ Sharing Alliance (TOSA) because I knew that not only was Peyton living on, but the right decision had been made.

Following protocol, I sent letters to every recipient.  It is a complicated process because it goes through the donor organization, to the transplant center to the recipient.  We were told that we may never hear from any of the recipients, but I still hoped and prayed that I would.

Day after day, I followed the same routine, stopping by the mailbox on the way home and anxiously checking the mail, but I never received a thing.  I held no ill will against the recipients.  The road to a recovery after a transplant is long, painful and difficult.  Many feel remorse because it took some one's death to give them life, not every transplant takes, and unfortunately, the transplant may not be enough to save that person's life.

I eventually resigned myself to never knowing who the recipients are, but praying every day that they were well.  All of that changed forever on the morning of Friday, September 25, 2015.  When my alarm from my phone went off at 4:50 to get ready to head out for swim practice, I rolled over, grabbed the phone, turned off the alarm, and scrolled through the messages on the screen.  One of them froze me.  It was from a woman named Leslie to me on Facebook and stated:

Hello, my name is Leslie...I am mom to Carmel---7yr old recipient of 1 of your sons cornea's. I wanted you to know we have recieved your letter and we will be responding soon. I wanted to wish you and your family a Marry Christmas and to say THANK YOU (I can be long-winded and these words sum up my thoughts).

I was dumfounded, especially when I saw the date on the message, December 24, 2014, this past Christmas Eve. How was it, nine months and a day later, I was receiving this message? Then I remembered that the night before, I had accepted a friend request from Leslie. I really though nothing of it because I get and make friend requests through some of the Survivors groups I belong to. I had learned that if you are not friends, any message you send will go to the person's "Other" box. Now that we were FB friends, the message came through.

I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and read it again and again. Now things made sense, including getting two small, handmade stuffed animals in the mail back in May. They were from Leslie and Carmel. I thought perhaps some one had sent them to me to donate to the Ronald McDonald House. I even posted on Facebook asking if any one knew anything about them. Just on a hunch, I decided to keep them, and lo and behold, y wish had been granted. I had heard from a recipient. I messaged Leslie back with my phone number, asking her to call me during my conference period at ten. I then found both of the stuffed animals, and sobbing, woke up Lisa to tel her the news before heading out the door to work.

As I arrived at the natatorium, Leslie messaged my back saying she would call. Knowing she was up, I messaged her back asking if she could call me then and there. When she said yes, I went into the coaches office, grabbed a wad of toilet paper and waited for the phone in my trembling hand to ring.

When Leslie called, we talked about how her message had been delayed, the mystery of the stuffed animals, and the grueling process her and Carmel went through for the transplant. We also talked about how hard it was to reach out as a recipient. She had read Peyton's story, and wasn't sure if she should, and had struggled with the decision. When her message went unanswered, she thought we were reluctant to respond and left us alone. One day, she was at a craft store, and Carmel picked out a kit to make a little stuffed dog. Leslie remembered that Peyton loved dogs, so she sent the dog and a little stuffed hamster, Carmel's favorite, to us, but having not received the first message made the gift a mystery. Now I knew who they were from, and now I also knew I would never let them go.

Fianlly, I asked how Carmel was doing with the transplant. There was a long pause before Leslie told me the transplant didn't work. Complications from previous surgeries had damaged the donated cornea. Carmel had another cornea transplant, and finally a full transplant since then, but she was now doing well, and the prospects for the transplant were good. It was what she said next that started the tears streaming down my cheeks. Before they had received that call about Peyton's cornea, Leslie and Carmel had all but given up hope. "Peyton gave us hope," Leslie told me. I choked back tears and thanked her. The message that she had sent Christmas Eve had now become my belated Christmas present. Knowing that we had made the right choice. Peyton hadn't given Carmel sight, but he had given her and Leslie something just as important, hope.

I now plan to send another round of letters to the other recipients. Maybe enough time has passed that they feel up to it. Even if it didn't work out, I know that they, and their families, at least received something almost as important as life, and that is hope.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Who is Peyton James, and Why Should You Care?

Peyton Andrew James was born on June 16, 2001 at St. Joseph's Hospital in Houston, TX.  He was two months premature and weighed slightly more than two pounds.  His parents, David and Jacki James were both in their mid 30's when Peyton was born, and both were educated, middle class Americans.  Both worked as teachers and tried to instill their love of learning in Peyton.

Peyton spent his early years in a three bedroom house in Tomball, a suburban bedroom community north of Houston.  He had his fair share of childhood illnesses including but not limited to ear infections, strep throat, and the flu.  At the age of four, his parents divorced.  At five, he started school and earned good marks; he learned to read and write; he learned to add, subtract, multiply and divide; he learned to say the pledge of allegiance; he learned about mammals, reptiles and fish; he learned about pilgrims and Indians; he learned how cruel kids can be to a boy with red hair and glasses; he learned that differences cold set you apart for harassment and torment.

After fourth grade, Peyton and his mother moved to Round Rock, a suburb of Austin.  There Peyton learned to deal with seeing his father less; he learned to make new friends; he learned new places to play and ride his bike; he learned that despite having moved 160 miles away from his old school, problems such as bullying and name calling had managed to follow him.  

Peyton left behind elementary school for middle school.  Unfortunately, his problems followed.  In fact, they got worse.  As the students developed into cliques and groups, Peyton was left on the outide looking in.  He wasn't athletic, so sports were out.  He wasn't musically inclined, so band and choir were out.  He possessed no real artistic ability, so that wasn't really an option either.  Peyton had a flair for the dramatic, so he gave theater class a go, but found that it wasn't to his liking.

What Peyton found to his liking narrowed his social options considerably.  He discovered his fondness for anime, Dr. Who, My Little Pony, video games and role playing games.  He did make friends, but not many.  They were loyal to each other, defended each other, played with each other and supported each other.

Before he entered 8th grade, Peyton and his mother moved to Georgetown, Texas.  Once again, Peyton had a chance for a new start, and once again, the old problems followed him.  One day, while sitting in the cafteria before school, Peyton committed the heinous crime of reading for pleasure.  an observant student noticed this, and quickly confronted Peyton about his faux pas.  So intent was this child on showing Peyton the error of his ways that he expanded the discussion to ridicule Peyton for his belief in God.  A frustrated Peyton reported this harassment to school administration, but they were unable or unwilling to help him.  That afternoon, Peyton went home, took his belt, and hung himself from his ceiling fan.  Five days later, this action would claim his life.

That folks is Peyton James in a nutshell.  Now the question remains, "Why should you care?"
That's easy because he was a human being.  He was a relatively good kid that had his fair share of problems and bad breaks.  He ended his life without warning or explanation.  Most of all, because he could be anyone you know.

That's something I have learned over time.  Suicide is non-discriminatory.  The major cause of suicide is illness.  Mental illness to be exact.  Like most illnesses, It doesn't care about your age, your race, your gender, or your socioeconomic status.  You can be the apple of your parents' eye, or the bane of their existence.  You may be the captain of the football team, or the kid in all black that skulks through the hall.  You may have clawed your way to the top of the ladder, or dwell at the bottom.   You may even be the bully or the bullied.  Just like cancer hits all, so does mental illness. But unlike cancer, no one is going to hold a bake sale to support your mental illness.  You will be treated more like a leper than a victim.

So why should you care?  Because it could happen to your friend, your classmate, your neighbor, your brother, your sister, your husband, your wife, your daughter or your son.  If any of the above were to come to you and confide they had an illness that could be terminal, would you urge them to seek appropriate medical help?  I would hope so.  So if they confide to you that they were suffering from a form of mental illness, would you do the same?

Keep in mind that Peyton could be any one, any time, any place.  That, is why you should care.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

And the Countdown Begins

It is hard to believe that today, September 13, 2015 marks 11 months since Peyton died.

Since his death, the Patriots won their 4th Super Bowl, the US lifted sanctions on Cuba, Donald Trump announced his run for the Presidency, the Avengers saved the Earth yet again, and the sun rose and fell over 300 times.  Yet one thing remains the same, and that is the huge void that his death has left in my life, and the never ending pain that has become a constant.  While the rest of the world has gone on, mine has come to a stand still.

Now I am faced with a new first, that anniversary of his death.  I have read, and numerous people, who have been in my shoes, have told me that the anticipation is worse than the actual day itself. And while that may be true, I still have another month of anticipation to go, and for lack of a better term, it sucks.

Part of the problem is that the original numbness that came with the shock of his suicide attempt and subsequent death, has worn off.  Now it is all an exposed nerve, and everything sets off a new wave of pain.  Even as I sit here writing, I am fighting back tears.  I have been told to think of positives whenever I think of the negatives, but even those bring me no comfort.  I just keep realizing there will never be any more positives, and the beat goes on.

I launched #Products4Peyton, I immersed myself in the #PeytonHeartProject, and plan on captaining a team, Peyton's Heart,  for the upcoming Out of the Darkness Walk to help raise money for suicide prevention, but none of that takes away the sting of Peyton's death.  Don't get me wrong, I love knowing that I am helping out others, and hopefully, I have made a difference in some one's life, but it never seems to fill the void.

I think the worst part is that the world just keeps going.  To me, and many in my shoes, that is the hardest thing to deal with.  I see people driving in their cars without a care in the world, filling up stadiums to cheer on their teams, voting in elections across the country and around the world, and i want to scream.  their lives get to keep going on.  Their lives haven't come to a screaming stop.  Their lives are full of the people that they love, and care for.  To them, Peyton and 40,000 others in the US, 800,000 more around the world, are nothing more than a statistic they saw somewhere.  It isn't their problem.  And to me that is unacceptable.

They say that a suicide affects at least six people intimately.  So for those 4.8 million suffering around the globe, I will spend the next month and beyond being a voice for you and your loved ones. I will speak out when I feel the need.  I will inform and educate when it is called for.  I will answer questions that may be ignored otherwise.  Most of all, I will make sure that those that take their lives are not merely a statistic, and for those that are uncomfortable with the topic of suicide, I will continue to speak until there is no longer a need for me to speak.

Monday, September 7, 2015

The First Week of School Sucked

Last week, all across the great state of Texas, millions of students returned to school.  Some went to suck up the knowledge being offered, others went to suck up lunch and socialize with their friends, and some even went to suck up oxygen.  To greet these students, more than 300,000 teachers stood ready and waiting to feed hungry minds, hungry bellies, and help others satisfy conditions of probation or parole.

I am one of those teachers, and for me, the first week of school sucked.  Not because we had to redo our entire curriculum because of changes to the SAT and PSAT.  Not because we are forced to spend our conference period in meetings at least twice a week.  Not because my pay raise amounted to $28 per month after yet another increase in the cost our insurance.  Nope.  All of that pales in comparison because this is the first start of school since Peyton took his life.

Peyton's mother and I have been divorced since he was 4.  With the exception of Kindergarten (which I took off from work to attend), I have missed every first day of school.  Although I wasn't there in person, I always received pictures and talked to him that night.  Over the years, the conversation went from "I love my class," to "Its ok," to "ugh."  There were always pictures of him with a smile on his face, his hair neatly combed, and a shirt with a collar.

This year, I spent the first day of school looking at other people's pictures of their kids with elaborate signs, dressed up in their best, standing with their siblings, even college kids with posts reading 16th grade, and I was jealous.  I wanted to turn away, but I couldn't. Like sniffing the milk, even though you know it will be sour, I had to look. I looked back at the Time Hop picture on my phone, and there was the last picture ever of Peyton on the first day of school.  He looked happy and ready to take on new challenges.  If only I knew what would happen a month and a half later, I would have taken the day to go up to Georgetown, to have breakfast with him, to drive him to the school.  If only.

Now I sit here wallowing in regret.  I constantly think about all the "what if's" and "Woulda, shoulda, coulda's"  It is truly painful.  I look at all the freshmen running the halls of the school where I work.  They are small, goofy, obnoxious, immature and frightened.  Peyton would have been one this year, and I keep looking for his face in the crowd, but it is not to be. "Peyton is dead," as his little sister, Emmalee, says when asked where her brother is, and I have to face that every day.  What I don't have to do is allow it to happen to another student.  I will continue to make noise, to speak out, to make others uncomfortable, to remove stigma, to open dialogues, to keep Peyton's memory alive, and to not let him be just another statistic.