Every 10 minutes, someone is added to the waiting list to receive a lifesaving organ donation. In addition, 22 people die each day while waiting for an organ transplant. On March 17th, 2019, an unexpected and disturbing call came in from the Schenectady Police Department notifying me that my sister was found unresponsive on an unlighted street sidewalk. The officer continued to share with me that they believe and are treating the case as possible overdose/manslaughter case as they speculate someone deliberately left my 48-year-old sister on the sidewalk and did not call for help. To make matters worse, she was found without identification, a cell phone, or any other belongings that would aid in notifying the next of kin. Without getting in touch with a relative to confirm her identity, she was declared by the police and medical staff as a Jane Doe. It was at that moment of our conversation that the overwhelming feeling of sadness filled my heart. Then, the gravity and seriousness of this situation began to overwhelm my senses as I began to process the information he was relaying to me. “It doesn’t look good,” the officer continued, “she was found unresponsive, labored breathing, and ice-cold when EMS arrived.” He also stated, “we have no way of knowing how long she was down. She needed to be placed on a ventilator in the emergency room.” Finally, he finished by saying that for the past two days, she has had no signs of movement or improvement.
My conversation with the officer provided me with enough information, and in turn, I expected the worst-case scenario upon our arrival to Ellis Hospital’s ICU unit. In that moment, my mother and I were promptly greeted by a caring nurse who held my mother’s hand while explaining everything that had happened from my sister’s arrival to her current status. As we walked into the room, I was saddened to see the grief radiating from my mother as her only daughter lay lifeless before her eyes. Sara, the nurse, turned slightly and held my mother close and walked with her to hold her daughter’s hand at the bedside. From that moment, our caring experiences never ended as each encounter with the doctors, nurses, and staff were exceptional.
As a fellow registered nurse, I truly appreciated the compassion and kindness in her tone as she carefully shared my sister’s poor prognosis with our family. That’s when unknowingly to my family, we learned that my sister Carrie was a registered organ donor with the Donate Life of America. This news shed a new glimpse of light and peace during one of the most difficult days of our lives. To me, this meant that my sister wouldn’t be just another opioid statistic, but instead, remembered and honored as a selfless human being who gave the gift of life.
I remember the honor walk distinctly because of its powerful and humbling impact on my family. Before my sister was wheeled out to donate her lifesaving gifts, I held up my phone to her ear and played one of her favorite songs. The entire hospital staff lined the hallway and was silent as we walked behind my sister as the nurses wheeled her to the operating room. I was truly amazed and in awe of this powerful tribute given to my sister.
Today, there are an estimated 113,000 registered recipients who are desperately awaiting a new chance at life. Sadly, many do not have a perfect match, and many people die each day waiting to receive these crucial transplants. However, if they have a qualified match from a person giving organ donation, eye, or a tissue donor, the donor can possibly save and heal up to 75 lives.
As I reflect on the grieving, sadness, and feeling of loss, I am comforted by the idea that my sister will be remembered as a hero. Although we may never know what truly happened to my sister Carrie Theobald, she will always be honored for giving hope and renewed life to three complete strangers in need of an organ donation transplant.
On September 21st my colleagues, friends, and family joined us in Saratoga Springs to celebrate the national organ donation appreciation walk for the families, friends, donors, volunteers, recipients and caring medical professionals who make the wonderful gift of life a reality.
Please consider giving the gift of life and become a registered organ donor today by visiting the Center for Donation and Transplant New York-Vermont https://www.cdtny.org/