Letters to the Editor

Viewpoint: Gifts that keep on giving

Bob Cohen and Beverly dated for 10 years. “It was a wonderful time of my life — I didn’t think I could be any happier,” recalls Beverly.

Then they decided to get married in 1992. “I had no idea it could be any better than it was, but it was. When our children went off to college, Bob and I traveled a lot and had a glorious time. Bob was a wonderful, wonderful person.”

Cohen was a pharmacist, but he didn’t own a pharmacy. He enjoyed working as a substitute for other owners because it gave him the opportunity to meet many more customers; he valued and appreciated getting to know a wide selection of patrons. Bob was a reliable source of information and didn’t hesitate to keep a store open for late arriving customers to pick up their prescriptions. “He was a kind, generous man,” Beverly said, smiling.

Then this “perfect” situation changed in 2003 when Bob fell at home and suffered a horrific head injury. He died four days later. “We had previously discussed the subject of organ donation if either of us were faced with that decision. There was no hesitation in our deciding to do so.”

Four of his organs went to new owners. “I never heard from three of the recipients, but Carole, who now had Bob’s lungs, sent numerous letters of deep appreciation from the very beginning.”

Carole was a 57-year-old female who suffered from a serious lung disease for a long time. After a two year wait, her transplant was a complete success.

A 54-year-old male received Bob’s liver. The gentleman had been suffering from hepatitis C. The left kidney went to a 70-year-old male whose renal failure was caused by high blood pressure. The right kidney was transplanted into a 63-year-old male. His own kidney failed from a hardening of a vital section of the organ. His wait lasted for more than four years.

Every year, 150,000 people around the world join the waiting list for a new heart, kidney, liver or lungs; half die before a compatible organ can be obtained. In the U.S., about 20,000 people receive an organ implant each year.

Success rates for transplant surgery continue to rise. In 1985, six out of 10 people lived a year or more after a heart transplant. By 1997, the figure had risen to 84 percent. For kidneys, the figure rose from 70 percent to 85 percent in the same period. But there still is a shortage of human organs.

In a letter from OneLegacy, a transplant donor network, Beverly was recognized for her involvement in utilizing Bob’s generous gesture.

“Because of your unselfish decision, four individuals have had their lives improved beyond anything modern medicine could do for them.” Since the loss of her husband, Beverly Cohen has been a volunteer for OneLegacy and now for California Transplant Donor Network. Her activities include providing support for the DMV and speaking at hospital trainings.

Transplant specialists are trying to increase the supply of organs by encouraging people to carry donor cards — or even better — join donor registries. For more information, go to donatelifecalifornia.org

The California Transplant Donor Network (ctdn.org) works with more than 160 donor hospitals in Northern and Central California and Northern Nevada to offer the option of organ donation to families who have lost a loved one. They also work closely with three Northern California transplant programs which place patients waiting for a life-saving transplant on the national waiting list and perform the transplant surgeries when an organ becomes available. These three are California Pacific Medical Center, Stanford Medical Center and the University of California, San Francisco.

Because of a glitch, Carole’s letters of thankfulness took a few years to reach Beverly. “It is vitally important for recipients to write and thank the family of the donor,” Beverly pointed out.

When they eventually met, they embraced warmly as tears of joy and gratitude flowed. “I had been uncertain about seeing Carole in person, but it turned out to be a magical experience.”

Then Beverly asked, “May I hear my husband’s lungs?” She placed an ear on Carole’s back as the recipient breathed deeply.

How would one describe that bonding?

John Brannon is a columnist for The Cambrian.