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Be an organ donor, save a life, create memories

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Wednesday, April 24, 2019

April is National Donate Life Month. I’ve been fortunate to meet Lynn Castellani and a few other Chowan County residents who received organ donations.

But here is the story of donating life that I know best.

Almost 20 years ago, my husband and I were living in Athens, Ohio -- home of Ohio University. Down in North Carolina, my father had been in failing health for some time. His doctors determined that he needed a kidney transplant.

I offered to get tested to be a donor, but my mom told me that if we planned to have kids, I shouldn’t donate. So we waited, while my father’s siblings went for various tests.

Luckily, my uncle -- my dad’s only brother -- was a match. So at Duke University, my father got a kidney transplant and it took. My uncle camped out at my parents’ house for a while as he recovered, while their mom, my grandmother, watched over both of them.

My husband and I came down to visit, and the first thing I noticed was how serious my mom was about having the house clean. All the plants were gone. No pets were allowed. Shoes were taken off at the door. It was the beginning of an attempt of creating a sterile environment for my dad, who had to take medications that suppressed his immune system. My two siblings -- there’s 17 years between the youngest one and myself -- were still in school at the time. They took the cleanliness and other changes as best they could.

Just a few days after the transplant, my dad looked so much better than what I remembered.

Because of the transplant, my dad was able to:

* go to community college and then East Carolina, where he graduated with a degree in construction management

* see his other two kids (my younger sister and brother) graduate high school and go off to the military

* help his oldest daughter move from Tennessee to West Virginia with his 2-week-old granddaughter

* hold his youngest grandson as he slept while Miles and me ran a 10K through Raleigh

* help install a sound system and do numerous other things at his church

* participate in church mission trips to Appalachia to help other North Carolina residents fix up their homes

* teach his three grandkids how to make soda

* meet all of his kids’ current spouses

The transplant did well for about 15 years. Then the hunt was on again for another kidney. My younger brother, who was in the Air Force at the time, received a medical waiver and donated one of his kidneys.

Again, my husband and I came down to check on everyone. This time, with three kids in tow. It was good to see my dad as close to normal as possible. My brother had to take some leave to recover, but was eager to get back to military life. It was the first of many times I noticed how mature and grown my little brother was.

My dad died of a heart attack the following March.

Looking back, by the time my dad needed a second transplant, he was at peace with whatever fate the good Lord had for him. Without the transplant, my kids would have never known their grandfather. I wouldn’t have had someone to call for home and car repair advice. His church wouldn’t still have his name tag hanging in their audio control center. Every time I run along the shores of Edenton and see a bald eagle, I think of my dad, as the eagle was his favorite animal.

As the daughter of an organ transplant recipient, I know the events around the operation change you. During the illness, you learn how precious every moment is, because it could truly be your, or someone else’s, last. You don’t take certain things -- mostly things your ill friend can’t do -- for granted.

After the operation, you become grateful and more appreciative that you have more time with your loved one. You do whatever you can to keep the organ recipient alive.

If you aren’t an organ donor yet, please become one. You can register online at https://www.donatelife.net/register/ . Tell your friend and relatives about your decision so when your time comes, your wishes are never in doubt. Celebrate life and all of its blessings.

(Italics) Nicole Bowman-Layton, Chowan Herald editor, followed in her father’s footsteps by being the family chef, home repair guru and mechanic. She can be contacted at nlayton@ncweeklies.com.(end italics)

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