Happy Herbivore Blog

September 3, 2012

The Greatest Gift

For as long as I can remember, I've been an organ donor. Even before I was old enough to make this decision for myself legally, I expressed my feelings to my parents. 


I can't really explain it beyond this: I've always felt this compulsion to give everything that I've got and when I'm gone, the last gift I can give is my body. Salvage what you can, send the rest to science. Let my death have meaning beyond my life. 

Perhaps I picked this up from my father who gave blood every chance he had when I was growing up. Scott has also been a regular donor. Tattoos, piercings and international travel has made it difficult for me to do so, though I'm going to try harder now. 

Here's why:

Last week I made an appointment with my dentist for a routine cleaning and to inquire about removing a wisdom tooth that finally decided to surface. X-rays were part of the consult, which was fortunate for me, because the dentist found something.

A little history: Before I moved to St. Maarten, I went to my dentist in NYC to get a deep cleaning and thorough examination. I was worried about what kind of medicine would be available to me on the island (where I was moving for a year or more), and thought I should have everything checked out before I left. 

My dentist noted that one of my fillings was quite large and also quite old. He said the probability of me having problems with it in the next year were very good and I should consider getting a crown, noting I'd need one eventually anyway. 

Always one to trust my dentist, I complied. 

When the dentist first placed the crown, I screamed out in agony. He said this was normal. I sat in his office crying, with tears streaming down my face. Still, it was "normal" to have some pain. The crown continued to hurt and throb for a few days but, again, I was told this was normal. Eventually it stopped hurting and everything seemed great so I moved abroad without concern. 

A few months later I woke up in the middle of the night to extreme pain. There aren't really emergency options in St. Maarten, so I spent the entire evening screaming and crying on the tile floor. Scott drove me to a dentist first thing in the morning and I began a lengthy process of getting a root canal. 4 visits and a lot of pain later, I thought it was behind me. 

Until the crown fell off (and nearly choked me when I was eating) while I was traveling in Europe a few months later. 

My St. Maarten dentist cemented the crown back on, but it never felt right. It felt like it didn't fit and I was periodically get pain. 

Eventually, the pain stopped and it felt like the tooth was fitting better, so I thought everything was fine. The dentist assured me everything was fine.

But everything was not fine. The crown did not fit correctly, leaving an opening that allowed bacteria to get in. I had a huge -- massive -- infection in my jaw and under my tooth. It was so bad that when looking at the x-ray, all you could see was black. It looked like someone cut a huge hole under all my teeth. 

Meanwhile, the infection had been so bad that it damaged surrounding regions which meant root canals and crowns a plenty to save the surrounded teeth. But what about the one tooth that started it all?  

The only hope for me at this point was to have the bad crown removed completely -- extraction. Then the area around it would need to be treated and a bone graft placed in the gaping hole in my bone. (Eventually I will receive an implant and have a mouth full of teeth once again -- but it will take 8 months). 

It all happened so fast. 

They told me and a few consent signatures later, I was getting work done while texting Scott he needed to leave work and come get me. 

After the initial root canals, I went home for the night to rest and in telling my parents what was happening, I realized the following afternoon I would become a person who accepted a transplant. 

When I hear the word "transplant" images of kidney or heart transplants come to mind, but I was accepting a transplant, too. Someone died but in their death, they changed my life. 

I posted this on Facebook an hour before my surgery:

"An open letter to the person whose bone I will be accepting today: I will never know who you are but I will always be thankful for your incredibly generous gift."

My hope in sharing my story that you see what the gift of life -- donating blood, donating bone or organs, can do. 

So many others also shared their stories:

"When I lost my beloved, I made sure his organs, skin, bones, anything that could benefit another was used. THIRTY SEVEN people benefited from his tremendous gift. Thirty seven lives improved.... no wait, thirty-eight, counting me. I got the best part of him for the time I got to love him."-Susan H.

"A blood donor saved my life in november of 2010... I can not advocate enough to please donate if you can, you never know when you might end up on the other end!"-Kristen B.

"Ashton needs 10 donors to donate him plasma every 2-3 mths. My little boy, and family, thank each and every one who makes this possible for him to be a little bit more healthy."-Tara Lynn

Of course, I respect that this is a very personal (and sometimes very hard) decision to make, especially if you are making it for someone other than yourself, and I'm not passing judgment on those who feel differently. I just hope you will consider donating blood, or becoming a bone/organ donor at death. 

Wishing you all good health!

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