One Person, Many Lives
The strength of America lies in the power of our tightly-knit communities and our nation’s long history of pulling together in times of crisis. The one we face now requires a different kind of community — a selfless, separate one. It’s not news that self-isolation, social distancing and quarantining are necessary to contain COVID-19. We all want to end this pandemic as quickly as possible, so our lives can return to normal and our daily thoughts are no longer consumed by hand-washing, rogue germs and health concerns.
For many of our neighbors, though, this isolated way of living is nothing new; our COVID-19 quarantine experiences mirror their everyday. There are thousands of organ and tissue donation recipients living throughout South Carolina, and We Are Sharing Hope SC, the state’s organ procurement organization, honors the selflessness of our donors and celebrates the lives created by their gifts every year.
In many cases, the recipients of these organ donations remain immunocompromised after their transplant. Their well-being relies on medication, protection and careful choices to avoid falling ill. These neighbors and friends of ours are a vulnerable part of the community who need our protection now more than ever, as COVID-19 requires us to make sacrifices for our country’s greater good.
We Are Sharing Hope SC’s mission focuses on the impact one individual — an organ donor — can have on many. We dedicate our lives to this cause, which makes us especially sensitive to the potential of this virus; the preservation of public health demands decisions surprisingly similar to those made around organ donation.
If we follow the practices recommended by the CDC, we keep ourselves and each other safe from the virus in the short term. In the long term, we save and extend the lives of our friends, families, neighbors and others we may never meet. We ensure the virus gets halted. One person’s decisions can change the course of countless others’ lives, and of COVID-19 and global health.
Similarly, for those who elect to become organ donors, a single decision saves the lives of up to eight organ recipients and enhances the lives of more than 75 tissue recipients. This ripple effect is one our organization has seen time and again for decades, but it is painfully relevant for the health of the global community, more so than eight, or even 75 others. More than offering a selfless gift at the end of our lives through organ donation, we now have the opportunity to extend this powerful, story-changing selflessness with the simple act of staying where we are.
Anytime someone says “yes” to organ donation, we know others are going to get their lives and health restored as a result. From that point forward, everything those recipients are able to accomplish is a result of a single, selfless decision. Every long run, first date, scientific discovery, child born, patient cured or parent cared for can be traced back to that single, selfless act by the organ donor — to someone, or several people, whom they will never meet. In times like these, altruism turns an everyday citizen into a hero, into a catalyst for miracles.
How much more motivated would we be to sacrifice our immediate happiness — perhaps canceling backyard cookouts or experiencing a movie at home instead of in the theater — if we knew that countless others would be able to experience their own happiness, later. That’s the exact reality we face in the COVID-19 crisis.
As with the rest of the medical community, we are seeing an impact on our work as this health crisis unfolds. The virus changes our ability to leave legacies via facilitating the gift of life, but it does not stop it. When we emerge from this epidemic, we hope everything returns to normal.
Until then, the message we want to spread is that individuals and individual decisions matter. Yours can have a tremendous positive impact, even from the privacy of your own four walls. Taking the necessary precautions to avoid transmission now can save many lives later. It can buy immunocompromised neighbors time, give the elderly in our community years of healthy living ahead. It can prevent the spread of the virus to our first responders and health care staff, and it ultimately keeps all of us safer and healthier.
We hope that all Americans make the decision to give the gift of life by becoming an organ donor. At the end of our lives, donation leaves legacies and saves lives. In this moment, though, we have the power to save others by sheltering in place, limiting exposure and thinking of public health over our own convenience. You never know what your neighbor may need or whom you might be saving, and there is no time like the present to play the hero by staying home.
David DeStefano is the president and CEO of We Are Sharing Hope SC, South Carolina’s tissue and organ procurement organization. The organization works with 68 hospitals throughout the state, providing a critical link between families who have lost a loved one and those who are awaiting a life-saving transplant. To register as an organ, eye and tissue donor, visit DonateLifeSC.org. To learn more about We Are Sharing Hope SC, visit SharingHopeSC.org.