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My Son, Hero or Humanitarian?

by Larry Patrick

    I’ve always been proud that my family has been involved in good deeds and community service just like many of yours.  However, there’s no keeping up with my youngest son, Jeremy.  He’s a smart young man and always is one step ahead of dear ole dad and the rest of the family.

    Two months ago, this healthy, intelligent, young man informed family members that he was going to anonymously donate one of his kidneys to someone he didn’t know.  My first reaction was, “Why?”   Up to this time I was a believer in donating my organs after death.  Many of us have it marked on our driver’s license.  Why not help someone when you are no longer around?  But giving up a kidney while you are young and healthy never occurred to me.  Sure, I would do so if a family member were in need to keep from dying or improving their quality of life.  I’m sure many of you would consider doing the same.  Some of you may already have done so.

    Giving up a body part to a complete stranger however, raises a different question.  Am I totally selfish or uncaring as opposed to the giving and unselfish person I think I am?  When your son hits you with giving up a healthy organ anonymously, you start thinking about these things.

    When situations like this come up, newspaper or magazine articles all of a sudden come to your attention on the subject or there’s a TV show that makes you think.  I recall two seasons ago on the HBO comedy, “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” the star of the show, Larry, has a friend that needs a kidney transplant.  The friend asked other friends and family to take a compatibility test.  Larry and one of the guy’s uncles, who’s in a coma, both are compatible.  Over several episodes, Larry is torn over the issue of giving up a kidney to his friend.  He’s not wanting to part with his kidney even though one of his best friends needs it.

    Last month, Parade magazine had an article about organ donations.  Apparently, there are 100,000 U.S. citizens needing organ transplants.  75,000 of them are for kidneys.  The article related how many people die before organ transplants become available or how many have their lives totally changed by getting one.  According to medical experts, we could all live healthy lives with just ONE kidney.  Some medical officials believe that while people should not be paid for giving an organ, if giving someone lifetime health insurance or medical care would spur interest in organ donations, some think that would be worth considering.

    My son listened to all of our concerns and questions.  Two weeks ago he had surgery to remove one of his healthy kidneys so that someone he doesn’t know will be able to hopefully have a normal life.  While I will always hope that he won’t ever have a kidney problem or need a transplant and not find a donor, I was left to ponder the gift or sacrifice that my son gave and how to feel about it.  Sure, I could think he was foolish but his act was so unselfish.  I think it was a very brave thing to do.  Does that make him a hero? The term “hero” is often overused and abused.  The recipient of my son’s kidney or the thousands of people on dialysis who are hoping a kidney becomes available to them could better say if my son is a hero.  How about a humanitarian?  That certainly seems to fit, especially since so many people are in need of organ transplants and so few of us are giving our organs, even as we die.  My son didn’t have to do what he did but did it to help a fellow human being to have a better life.  My son is certainly a living example of what many of us could or even should do.  Despite the fears that I have as a loving parent, I am very proud of my son.  To me he did a heroic act by risking his health, now and later, for someone he will never know, so they can have a better life today.

    My family says that my youngest son has really raised the bar on doing good deeds and community service.  It does have me writing this article for all of us to ponder.  By being an organ donor in life or upon our death, we can give a gift that can change someone else’s life, for the better.  It is an individual decision based on numerous criteria some of which this article may not have covered.  I’m pleased to say that in my heart and in my mind, my son, Jeremy, is a brave young man who did a heroic deed that makes him a true humanitarian because he asked for nothing in return.  That makes me truly lucky to have him as a son.  I’ve already told him, “I love you Jeremy and Dad is very, very proud of you.”   larry@huerfanojournal.com