I thought today was simply about a photo op. About dropping off a check. I was so wrong. And I am so glad that I was. At the start of the 2014-15 school year, the STEM Academy coordinator at my school did what's she's done every year since she took on the role. She encouraged her students to choose an organization to raise money for-- one with some connection to Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics. But this year Danielle solicited ideas from the community, to bring in more ideas and more interested parties. I emailed her, as did one of my colleagues, suggesting that they choose Gift of Life Michigan. It made the list of fourteen potential groups that the students could choose from. The leadership council, which included a few of the students who had been in my classroom on the last day I taught prior to going on medical leave, looked at the list and said, "We don't even need to vote. We're doing this for Mr. Green."
As honored as I was to hear this, I was even more excited that I was healthy enough to be the "face" of the students' fundraising efforts. I spoke to them in November, and was present on the night of the Silent Auction, selling fist bumps for 50 cents. I also went to the school every day during the "paper organ" portion of the fundraiser, where students could donate a dollar and put a paper organ with his or her name on it up on the wall. Today was the culmination of the efforts of the STEM Academy, when Danielle and I met with Kim, the Volunteer Coordinator for Gift of Life Michigan. In my mind, we would hand her the check for the $4,200 raised by students, staff, and community members, have our photo taken, and go along our merry way. I was not prepared for the emotional journey I was about to go on.
Part of the reason that my experience today at the GOLM headquarters caught me off guard was due to my conception of what Gift of Life Michigan does. Despite having participated in the school's fundraiser and speaking as a volunteer for GOLM on a few occasions, the work that this amazing organization does remained largely abstract to me. I knew they were a bunch of great people who had a significant role in my lung transplant, but I guess that's as far as I went in the thought process. My eyes were opened by the tour I took today.
Kim led Danielle and me on an hour and a half long walk through the building, where we encountered all of the various components of what Gift of Life employees do on a day to day basis. We met the people who train nurses on how to speak with families facing a donation situation. We met the individuals who take the calls when a person's death occurs and the donor registry needs to be checked. We spoke with the women who handle the financial endeavors of Gift of Life, and learned that our school's donation would largely go to helping families afford the expensive medications that organ recipients need. Learning this was especially gratifying to me, since I have been blessed with almost no financial burdens post-transplant. We walked through the room where the donor calls and recipient calls are made, divided by a large partition. The duality of this facility, the vita e mortam process which starts in this room, had me in awe.
Near the end of the tour, I stood in the lab where my blood was tested every six weeks for over one year while I was waiting for lungs. A lab technician opened up the freezer where my samples were once kept at -72 degrees, and I peered inside, realizing that almost exactly 10 months ago today, my blood was taken out and tested against the blood of my donor. The shiver that ran down my spine was not from the frigid air emanating from the freezer.
All of these were people that had saved my life, or the life of someone just like me, and I had never once fully appreciated their efforts. I can't express how grateful I am to them, and for having the chance to meet them; to make their once invisible work visible to me.
The response we got from everyone was proof that this stop on the Gratitude Train went both directions. As Kim told us before we left, many of these people never see the results of their work. Some of them only deal with the donor portion of the process, and this was a rare opportunity for the to see a person who had benefited from what they do each day.
I was able to hold it together while at the Gift of Life Michigan headquarters, but now, as I write this, I am overcome with emotion. If I am indeed a miracle, I am only one because of the hundreds of people involved in giving me the second chance at life I have today. Today, I became acutely aware of a segment of those people that I had previously under-appreciated. I am so thankful to have righted that wrong. I could drop off a check for four grand every month and still be indebted to Gift of Life Michigan and its many incredible employees who make life better for people each and every day.
|Danielle (far right) and I, along with two of the employees who handle |
the allocation of funds donated to Gift of Life Michigan