Her first words
We have a joke in our family that one of our children bucked the normal speech patterns of development. Instead of the typical da-da-da-da (which of course brought great delight to my sweetie), this little tyke’s first word was “ball”. He didn’t talk for quite some time, but when he did, the first word he uttered was “baw” which he followed with whipping a Nerf one the whole length of the family room. His message was clear! Even today, the messages sent by my children often stir my soul.
Back in May, our Sister had to have major surgery for her knee which was injured further in the basketball season. Although we should be well equipped in how to handle surgeries (this being number 34 for our children since 2008) and in some ways we are, our whole demeanor that day was one of somber. Our hearts sang melancholy. Joined by our pastor (who travelled three hours to be with us), Daniel, Sister and I gathered pre-surgery to pray as we prepared for the time that for me is like a living hell because once upon a time in a surgical post-operative meeting room I was officially told my son was dead. I hate those stupid, clinical, sterile, devoid-of-life rooms. I often beg the doctors to just tell us the news in the waiting room because at least that is a little more welcoming and comforting.
My heart ached when we received the call from the operating room telling us that our sweet girl would need the greater of the two options (complete ACL reconstruction with donated tissue) to repair the damage. Instead of forty minutes, we were told to strap in for a four hour surgery. How would we tell her that most of what she loved was going to have to be put on hold for a year? How much more would she have to endure? Our entourage of three grabbed a bite to eat, visited, and prayed. Because we had left our home at three in the morning, we were offered a private waiting room so that I could nap while we waited. I sat watching old episodes of Reed’s favorite, The Andy Griffith Show, thinking I would never be able to rest, but the mental anguish and physical exhaustion won because the next thing I knew we were meeting with the surgeon.
When we were finally able to all gather together in her recuperating room, I tried my hardest to put on my bravest face. After a little bit of time, I asked if the doctor or nurses had told her any news. In her grogginess, she had enough wherewithal to be able to read the clock. The tables turned when my not-so-little girl tried to comfort me, “Momma, it’s okay. I saw the clock. I know. I know.” No tears fell from her eyes as I fought to hold mine in. There was no steely strength that could have stopped my floodgates from opening after her next utterance. “Mom, I would like to write to my donor’s family to tell them ‘Thank You’.” Here she lay still under the effects of anesthesia, nauseous and unable to walk, and the first thing she wanted to do was to thank someone. Instead of shedding tears on what wouldn’t be (for her specifically: no basketball), she wanted to give back to a family of a person who gave the ultimate gift: an improved quality of life for her. As the sister of a donor, she was firm in her commitment to acknowledge and honor the gift she received.
It took us a little bit (logistically) to secure the information needed for her to do this, but we are now in the process of getting that letter to the tissue organization that will ultimately deliver the letter to her donor’s family. As a donor family ourselves, we hope her small gesture will bring them comfort. In addition to her sincere thanks, she will share that her ultimate goal is to return to playing sports, something not possible without their generosity, and along the way on her healing journey, she will take a stop as member of the Team MN-DAK delegation to the National Transplant Games in Cleveland, Ohio next summer.
I don’t know that she will ever interact with the donor’s family, but I do know that for the rest of her life, she will carry a little piece of their loved one in her knee, but more importantly in her heart.
Special Note: Organ and tissue donation is something near and dear to my heart. Our son, Reed, at 9 years old, told us that he wanted to be a donor. Never did I image three short years later I would be honoring his wishes. Giving the gift of life is the one of the most selfless acts of service a person can choose. If you are interested in becoming a donor, please visit www.donatelife.org and make sure to share your wishes with your family. Over the course of the next year, we will be sharing our Sister’s journey to Cleveland, including ways to support the team.