"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.