National Donor Day

By Suzanne Ruff, Living Donor, AAKP Board of Director, Author of the Reluctant Donor

You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.
– Kahlil Gibran

February 14th is National Donor Day. It’s also St. Valentine’s Day. Most everyone associates the heart with Valentine’s Day – because the heart is the organ that symbolizes love.  In reality, though, every organ, every tissue, every single part of our miraculous bodies symbolizes the greatest of all gifts: LIFE!

National Donor Day is not only a time to focus on all types of donation – organ, eye, tissue, blood, platelets and marrow. It is also the time to focus on those who have been donors and given the gift of life.  I often say I would not have a family without organ donation. Strangers saving my loved one’s lives. It is humbling, amazing and miraculous.  

I try to give thanks by writing, talking and encouraging others to learn about being a donor. It’s my passion, a passion founded on gratitude to the strangers who saved the lives of people I love. The gifts of a donor are the essence of ‘love one another’. My mother and sisters, my uncle and cousin have received life-saving kidney and liver transplants from total strangers.  Within my family there have been nine organ transplants to eight different people. Last November, when my sister received a life-saving liver transplant, she needed eight blood transfusions. Blood, marrow and tissue donors are heroes, too.

I can tell you first-hand that being a living donor gives you a feeling of joy and peace . . . saving a life. As a living kidney donor to my sister, I always caution that it is a very personal and private decision, not to be taken lightly. It’s major surgery. It is not something everyone can do or should do. I prefer cures for diseases be discovered, but at this point in time, it was the right decision for me. My sister faced a very long wait for a donor because there are just not enough donors. Over 112,000* names are on the waiting list as of today.

There are other ways to help. If you are blessed to be in good health – and that is an enormous blessing – donating blood or marrow is a powerful way of helping others.

My mother’s favorite t-shirt along with her bumper sticker said, “Don’t take your organs to heaven; heaven knows we need them here.” To be an organ donor in the event of a sudden or unexpected death is the greatest gift a person can do for their fellow man.  My mom received a kidney transplant from a stranger in 1988 – that gift gave her an additional fifteen years of life, untethered to a dialysis machine that had kept her alive for ten years.  The first person Mom said she wanted to meet in heaven – after meeting God – was her donor.

There are many heroes in heaven who have done just what that donor did for my mother.  Many of the donor families say it gives them joy despite their sorrow at having lost someone they loved, to know their death has helped someone. On National Donor Day, we reflect on the many donors who have saved the lives of people they don’t even know, giving them a little more time, giving them life.