Christopher Vieth, Donor
Giving the Gift of Life
Posted November 28, 2011
In the fall of 1990 our oldest son Christopher was a sophomore at Washington University. On a Friday afternoon in October he was hit by a car while crossing Skinker. When we located him in Barnes Hospital the ICU physician gently explained to us that Christopher had suffered severe head trauma and would not recover. How long he would survive was unsure, but he would not live. We spent the rest of the day in the ICU with our four children, waiting for updates from the doctor.
The following day we arrived at the ICU early in the morning and were met by a representative of Mid-America Transplant Services. He explained that Christopher had probably suffered brain death during the night and that tests were being done to verify that. He had been with Christopher all night and wanted to ask us if we would consider organ donation. Our first consideration was whether or not it was a moral thing to do. In a world in which there is much controversy over some medical procedures, we as Catholics wanted to know what our church taught about transplantation. He assured us that the Catholic Church encouraged donation, as did all major Christian denominations. We did consent to the donation and waited for confirmation of brain death.
Christopher was officially declared dead around 11:30 am that morning of October 7, 1990. Altogether we were able to donate his heart, liver, two kidneys, two corneas and bone tissue.
“Some people think they could never consider donation, but when a family is face-to- face with life and death, there is value in knowing that organ donation can save another family from losing their loved one.”
Two days later we were approached at the funeral parlor by a physician friend who told us that his colleague’s patient had received Christopher’s heart. He was thanking us for our gift, and we cried tears of joy that someone now was alive because of our gift.
We can now look at our decision with the perspective of time and see the long-term effects it has had on our family. We are at peace with that decision and have several observations:
(1) Priorities and attitudes can change for a potential donor family. Some people think they could never consider donation, but when a family is face-to-face with life and death, there is value in knowing that organ donation can save another family from losing their loved one.
(2) Our surviving children are proud of our decision. They have written term papers and given class speeches on donation because they know what a wonderful gift it can be. They miss their brother but are glad other families still have their loved ones.
(3) We would encourage recipients to write to their donor families. A thank you note or letter means so much to a family that has consented to donation.
(4) The decision whether or not to donate gives the family some control at a time when they have no control over anything. In reality it is the one decision that only they can make.
(5) Donation enhances the healing process. Knowing that some good came out of their tragedy gives the donor family something to hold on to during the grieving process.
(6) Society in many instances has devalued life. Donation overlooks race, religion, and social status and helps a family appreciate the Gift of Life that has been given to each human being.