Jewish World Review Oct. 8, 2012/ 22 Tishrei, 5773
Anxious moments on the wait list for life
By Mitch Albom
"You are a type 1 diabetic," they said. His parents were taken aback. But all he could think was, "Can I still play my
He is 35 now, and in some ways, for all he has endured -- the constant needles, the endless blood tests, the epileptic seizures, and, recently, the kidney failure that leaves him regularly attaching to a dialysis device -- he is still looking forward. Still asking if he'll be able to play.
His name is
Without them, the clock is ticking.
"They told me in March it was about an 18-month wait," he says, "but it depends on who's in front of you and who's behind you. I try not to think about it. I think about how lucky I am to even have a chance."
Lucky? If you hear the details of what Penn has endured, you would hardly use that adjective. He spent his childhood and teenage years endlessly pricking his finger or taking injections. The seizures he suffered kept him from ever getting a driver's license.
Despite this, he went to college, become a teacher, married, had a son.
Then, last year, he and his wife were driving to see President
"Something's really wrong," he said.
His kidneys were malfunctioning. By September of last year, his blood was 20 percent toxic. He was put on dialysis, and now has a permanent tube in his abdomen, through which he flushes the poison with help of a device. He sleeps with it attached at night. This is all part of daily life.
Last March, he officially went on the organ donors list. His age is an advantage; the fact that he needs two organs is not.
"I try to tell my 5-year-old son as much as I can about my situation," he says. "We talk about the transplant that might happen. He calls it 'the big surgery.' He keeps asking me, 'When's the big surgery coming?'."
Courtney, who lives in
"It's one of the most selfless gifts," says Penn, who signed up as a donor at 18. "It's painless. Unless you have a religious reason not to, I would encourage people to at least consider it."
Now, I admit to being squeamish over the years about becoming an organ donor. I thought about my body, the invasion, how my family might react at that grieving moment.
But a few weeks ago, I sat on a TV panel, next to a vibrant 37-year-old woman named Dawn. She had been close to death with a bad heart. She had planned her funeral. In May of 2010, she went into a coma.
She awoke five days later, with a new life. That same week, a 21-year-old
I stared at her, sitting next to me, all smiles, and I watched her meet her donor's mother for the first time. There were tears everywhere. And it hit me just how amazing humanity can be, and what a good, true final act it could be to give breath to another life, just as you die.
I hope someone does that for
For a guy who has been waiting since age 9 to play without worry, that would be an awfully sweet moment.
To become an organ donor, click on 2giftoflifemichigan.org,1 call 800-482-4881 or sign up at a Secretary of State office to receive a heart emblem for the front of the driver's license (which adds the donor's name to the state's database for organ and tissue donors after death). National instructions and more information are available at www.organdonor.gov.
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