Friday, May 26, 2006

May 25, 2006 - Tainted?

Today I go to a luncheon sponsored by the pastoral-care department at our local hospital, Ocean Medical Center. The topic is organ donations, and the guest speaker is a representative from The Sharing Network, the regional organization that coordinates organ donations from patients in New Jersey hospitals.

I’ve always been a backer of organ donations. Having known a few people who had to wait years to receive compatible organs for transplant, I’ve tried to spread the word, encouraging church members to fill out organ donor cards.

I’ve always been a backer of blood drives as well. There was a time when I was a regular donor (my type is O-negative, one of the scarcest), but about ten years ago the Red Cross abruptly stopped accepting my blood. Previously, they used to call me every couple of months and ask me to donate, but then they dropped me like a hot potato. The reason is - are you ready for this? - Mad Cow Disease.

I’ve never, to my knowledge, been exposed to Mad Cow Disease, nor have I known anyone who has. I did, however, live in Scotland for just over nine months in 1982-83, and that was enough to put me on the blood-donor blacklist for good. Theoretically – along with every man, woman and child in the British Isles – I could have been exposed through eating tainted beef, and that’s evidently enough for the American Red Cross. (The Brits, of course, have no such exclusion – but what are they going to do, shut down blood donations for the entire country?)

I always had a secret hope that the Red Cross would lift that nitpicky exclusion, and start accepting my blood again. It’s not that I enjoyed getting stuck with needles; it was the good feeling I got out of being a donor, of giving something back.

Today I learned that, in all likelihood, the possibility of my being an organ donor is probably out, as well. Not that I was looking forward to being an organ donor (the principal qualification, after all, is being dead); but, I used to get a good feeling from carrying that organ-donor card around in my wallet.

The reason I’m on the blacklist, of course, is my lymphoma. I’m tainted. Even if I go into remission and stay there the rest of my life, I’ll always be a cancer survivor. And most cancer survivors are excluded from giving organs or tissue samples, or even blood.

Should I don a burlap robe, tie a cowbell around my neck, and walk around shouting, “Unclean!”? That’s a little like how I feel, anyway – as my cancer has robbed me of this small opportunity to be a good citizen.

If any of you reading this can fill out an organ donor card, but haven’t, why not do so today? Just visit the New Jersey Sharing Network website, or – if you live in another state – contact your local hospital to find out what agency works with them. It will make you feel good – and me as well, for it will mean you’re taking my place.

"For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body."

- 1 Corinthians 6:20


1 comment:

Mary Beth said...

That's exactly what happenend to me! And I'm O negative too! I am forbidden from giving blood as a result of my serial travels to Belize, which has malaria. What with liability the way it is, the blood collectors can't be too careful. This whole thing is about managing risk. Mary Beth