Receiving - and Giving - the Ultimate Gift

Updated on January 20, 2018

No act of kindness, however small, is ever a waste of time.

At the beginning of each new year, I like to look back on all the events of the previous year, good and bad, and reflect upon how each moment has influenced my life. Each year is full of memories and moments that make up the person we grow to be year after year. But 2017 will be especially memorable because of a gift I received from someone I have never met, nor will ever meet.

In early 2017 I had surgery on my left arm, five years after the same fusion was performed on the bones in my right thumb and wrist to relieve arthritis pain. Only this second surgery was slightly different: the surgeon inserted tissue from a donor in two different areas of my wrist.

Certainly this surgery was certainly less dramatic than receiving a lung or heart from a donor. The entire procedure is out-patient, there is no chance that the tissue will be rejected, and the recovery period is relatively short.

For any type of surgery where a donation is involved, the recipient has the option of writing to the family of the organ or tissue donor. For my particular situation, this was through the Musculoskeletal Transplant Foundation in New Jersey. The donor remains anonymous. However, I was given a label to include with a card or letter. The foundation can then track the donor's family and forward any correspondence.

It took me several weeks to even figure out what to say, but I finally came up with this message which I included within a card:

Dear Family,

I recently received a tissue donation from your loved one, and I am writing to thank you for the gift you have given me: the ability to again use my left hand.

I suffer from arthritis in the joints of both the thumb and wrist on my right and left arms, which made basic tasks very painful. I had a fusion performed on the bones in my right hand and wrist in 2012. This year I had the same procedure done on my left arm, only this time the surgeon included grafts to replace some of the degraded tissue.

I cannot imagine the circumstances under which I came to receive this gift, nor can I comprehend the pain of the loss you must have experienced for me to receive it. All I can do is express gratitude to you as this donation will allow me to function normally again. I am a writer, a quilter and a gardener, and all of these had become difficult to do prior to the surgery.

Please know that I will keep your family--and the one you lost--in my prayers. My hope is that you can take comfort in the fact that a small portion of your loved one lives on in me, as well as in so many others. This gift will make a substantial difference in my life, and I promise to put it to good use. I will never forget what your family has done for me.

Sincerely,

Kristine

The family has the option of responding, and in the months since I have sent this letter I have not had a response. But whether or not I hear back is unimportant. Besides, the small amount of tissue I received pales in comparison to someone who received the heart or liver that likely saved their lives.

The reality is that the smallest gifts can make the biggest difference in the life of another person. To the recipient of even the tiniest donation that helps their life get back on track and allows them to function normally again, it is the biggest and greatest gift they will ever receive.

According to Organdonor.gov, the website of the U.S. Government Information on Organ Donation and Transplantation, there were 15,947 organ and tissue donors in 2016. From these donors, 33,611 transplants were performed. Yet, as of August 2017, there were still 116,000 men, women and children still awaiting donations on the transplant list.

While 95 percent of Americans support organ and tissue donation, only 54 percent have actually registered as donors, according to the website. Each day, 20 people die awaiting donations.

I signed up 15 years ago to be an organ and tissue donor. I have also made sure my family is clear about my wishes. I urge everyone to do the same. The material things we collect are objects that will be donated to charity or farmed out to family members. They are only small reminders of the life we leave behind. But the gift of life is truly one that allows us to live on in others and go on. I can think of nothing better I would like to leave behind if the time ever comes.

As the moral of Aesop's Fable The Lion and the Mouse concludes, an act of kindness, no matter how small it may be, is ever a waste of time." To whoever it was who left this small act of kindness to me, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. You have changed so many lives in ways both large and small. Your generosity will never be forgotten, and will be repaid many times over. May God keep you in His care. And may he bless your family for the kindness, courage and integrity it took to give this ultimate gift to so many.

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