I Said “NO” to Organ Donation — Don’t do the Same


On Christmas of 1990 and New Years of 1991, my 77-year-old father, Art Aronson, was in intensive care at the University of Minnesota Hospital.  He had been rushed 200 miles in a snowstorm to Minneapolis after suffering a heart attack.  He also had severe emphysema.  He was immediately taken to surgery for a quadruple bypass, he remained unconscious for days when finally a physician called me aside and said that dad was brain dead. 


At that time, I knew nothing of organ donation.  I only knew my dad was gone.  Someone from the hospital asked if I would like to donate his organs and in my grief I said, “NO!”  No one from an OPO (Organ Procurement Organization) was there to explain as they do now, and the question was asked almost as though it was an afterthought.  I wrongly believed that “donation” meant his organs would go to a medical school to be studied by students. It seemed to me that there were plenty of dead people so they sure didn’t need dad’s organs. Isn’t it ironic that 16 years later I needed and got a heart transplant from a total stranger?


In 1991 as now, there was an organ shortage, not as severe, but a shortage just the same – people were dying because of it.  After my dad’s death, I forgot about the issue until I was hired a couple of years later as a communications consultant for UNOS (the United Network for Organ Sharing) the national organization that coordinates available organs with people who need them.  Slowly, I began to realize I had not only made a bad decision but that others may have been affected as a result. You see, you can be an organ donor at any age.  Even though my dad was 77, there might have been something, whether tissue or organs, he could have donated.


So when I hear people criticize others for not being organ donors I get incensed.  We should not be criticizing people who are not organ donors; we should be educating them and their families.  Let’s face it, when you are young and healthy, donating your organs after death is not only an unpleasant thought, it is considered to be so far in the future you can do it later.  Well, there is no “later” for people on the transplant list and when you are dead you don’t need your organs. 


I think I am an excellent example of an intelligent, concerned and informed human being but I still said “NO!”  I said it because I was not at all informed about organ donation and never thought it would affect me anyway.  Millions of people are in the same position and that’s why I get incensed when I hear phrases like, “Donors should get organs first.”  That attitude is wrong, cruel and inhumane.  I am an example of someone who said “NO” and then received a new heart.  What if your loved one was dying but neither she nor the family knew anything about donation and transplants.  Should she be denied an organ because she wasn’t a donor?  I think not. 


I know that OPOs do a great job of working with families at the time of brain death.  But when you are grieving, you are not always rational.  If everyone would register as an organ donor and tell their families their wishes, a lot of problems would be solved, and we would have many more organs and transplants.  Register today by visiting Donate Life America at http://donatelife.net/  UNOS at http://www.unos.org/ or your regional OPO.  And – when you get your drivers license renewed be sure you check the “donor” box.


Please don’t make the same mistake I did.  You will regret it forever.


Please read and comment on my World Wide Issues  blogs on http://blogsbybob.wordpress.com


Also…visit my Facebook site, Organ Transplant Patients, Friends and You at  http://tinyurl.com/225cfh  OR — my Facebook home page  http://www.facebook.com/home.php

Posted on May 11, 2008, in Organ Donation. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Susan Mau Larson


    Thank you for that honest and heartfelt blog. Over the past decade you have done a great deal of work in training those of us who advocate for donation to do it well and now you have become a personal advocate. Sharing this experience with your father is helping all of us to better understand the perspective of families in grief. I agree with Jennifer that your father would be proud.

    Your friend,


  2. Bob,

    Thank you for sharing such a personal story. It’s often hard for people to publicly acknowledge a regret, or a wish that a situation had been handled differently. Please remember that the good you are doing now — sharing your stories and engaging the public in a large-scale conversation about donation and donor registries — is saving a lot of lives, too. There are many ways to donate life: some do so directly through organs and tissues, and some do so indirectly by encouraging others to consider donation. You are doing your Dad proud right now!


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