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Second Wind Lung Transplant Association

A Donor Mother’s Story

By Lois Cunduff

cundiff-david2_tmbJanuary 17 was a Sunday. I had gone to the grocery store and planned to make soup and watch the Dolphins-Bills playoff game. Mid-morning I received a phone call. My son was near death because of a self-inflicted gun-shot wound. When the subject of organ donation came up we knew he would have wanted to be a donor as he was a loving and caring person.

We did not have a funeral for David, just the funeral home gathering without a minister. A close friend read a poem she had written. I told of the many people who were benefiting from our loss. Two days after David’s death, I called the Arizona Organ and Tissue Bank. I asked them to tell us something that could keep us going. The told me that since David was so young and healthy, 90-100 people could be helped. All major organs except one lung were used for transplantation. The skin and bone could be used for grafts.

cundiff-david_tmbTen days after David’s death, I received information about the organ recipients. David’s heart went to a 49- year- old man in Tucson. I received news that he was well a year later. His family was grateful he had been given his life back. The liver went to a 40-year- old man in New Mexico. He died seven months later of cancer; his death was unrelated to the transplant. The right kidney went to a 36- year- old man in Phoenix. The left kidney to a 55-year-old married woman in Oregon, with 5 children. The lung went to a 52- year- old woman in San Diego. I was given a little more information on each recipient but not much. As a lifelong asthmatic, I was most interested in the woman who received the lung transplant. I was sad to hear that only one lung could be transplanted. I had to consider whether to contact the recipients. Everyday I woke up I would feel a different way about it. To be honest, I do want to know how the recipients are doing. Still, as David’s death was a suicide, I was disturbed about how the organ recipients would feel. On a talk show, I saw a recipient who had received his organ from a suicide victim. The recipient’s family feeling was gratitude for the organ. The most important thing to them was that the donor family had made it available.

David choose to end his life. A person on a transplant list is desperate to stay alive. I never got to be the mother of the groom or grandmother to his children, but I have given this chance to others. The day that David died started my education in suicide, in particular the world of suicide survivors. We are those left behind by the suicide. David’s friends now wish they had picked up on the signals he was sending. There are warning signs:

Suicide Prevention – Signs of Suicide Feelings Understanding and Helping the Suicidal Person.

There are approximately 30,000 suicides in the United States yearly. For every suicide there are around 6 survivors or 180,000 touched by these deaths annually. Awareness and communication are the key to suicide prevention.

I attended a donor recognition ceremony in Miami with a friend who is also the mother of a donor. The appreciation received was worth the accompanying sorrow. I also befriended a kidney patient who was a customer at my postal window. She will soon celebrate her second year transplant anniversary. We have shared our stories and cried together.When I see her, I am glad we made the decision to donate. I have watched her progress and it is wonderful. When she sees me she is reminded of the sorrow of the donor families. I encouraged her to correspond with her donor family and she wrote them right away. They have met and correspond regularly.

If you have had a transplant and have not felt comfortable with the idea of corresponding with the donor family, please reconsider. Their loved one’s life meant a lot to them, as much as the gift of life has meant to you.

Lois Cundiff
May 1999
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You may also write to Lois through the Organ and Tissue Donor Feature Coordinator Kathryn Flynn.
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