LIMA — At the age of 19, Amber Payne was already planning her funeral.
She had just returned home from her first semester of college, and was told by doctors she only had between six and 12 months to live. The cystic fibrosis in her lungs had gotten so bad that the only chance for survival was an organ transplant, which could take months or even years for her to receive. Payne, a Wapakoneta High School graduate and current Lima resident, remained bed-ridden for 10 months, relying on a feeding tube and an oxygen machine to survive.
But on Sept. 25, 2005, Payne underwent a double-lung transplant that ended up saving her life.
As she approaches the 10-year anniversary of her life-saving transplant, Payne said she is eternally grateful to God, her donor and her donor’s family.
“Obviously ‘thank you’ is not enough,” Payne said. “Those words don’t fully grasp how I feel or the sacrifice I know their loved one has made. I don’t take their loved one’s sacrifice or their loss lightly. I think about my donor everyday and the opportunity I was afforded because of them.”
Not everyone is as fortunate as Payne, however. Lifeline of Ohio, a non-profit organization that promotes and coordinates organ donation, estimates there are more than 123,000 Americans on the transplant waiting list, with more than 3,300 waiting at one of 10 transplant centers in Ohio. The organization, also known as LOOP, calculates that once every 48 hours, an Ohioan dies waiting for an organ.
What may be worse is that these numbers are increasing. Deann Heiing, ICU manager at St. Rita’s Medical Center, said the amount of people in the United States who die per day waiting for a transplant has gone from 18 to 22 in the last four years.
“It’s a huge issue,” Heiing said. “The need is definitely out there, and that’s part of our goal at St. Rita’s — trying to educate people in the hope of getting more people on that donor registry so that we don’t have this increase in numbers.”
Heiing said educating people on what it means to be an organ donor is the most important factor when it comes to increasing the donor registry. That’s why she and several other staff members at St. Rita’s and LOOP created a donation council to raise awareness of the need for organ donors. The council hosts activities that promote enrollment in state registries, and members travel to local high schools to provide information to students about organ donation.
Recently, St. Rita’s was recognized by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for conducting activities that promoted enrollment in state organ donor registries.
Though Heiing said their efforts have made an impact on the local community, she said more can be done.
“Sometimes people decide not to donate because they don’t understand why or have different myths about it,” Heiing said. “Our goal is to try to make sure people have enough information so they can make an educated choice.”
Heiing said some people think if they’re an organ donor, hospital staff will make less of an effort to save their life in the event they are hospitalized.
“That’s probably the biggest myth out there,” Heiing said. “When patients come to the hospital, we have no idea if they’re an organ donor or not. We don’t even discuss that until the patient has been declared brain dead or if the family brings it up first.”
Dottie Kaiser, a former chaplain at Lima Memorial Health System who has provided support for families going through the organ donation process, said people are sometimes hesitant to consent to organ donation on behalf of their loved one.
“What I tell families is, ‘you said your loved one was such a giving, loving person,’” Kaiser said, “so the last act they will do will be to share one of their organs to somebody who is in desperate need.”
Jackie Drury, regional representative for LOOP, said the decision to donate not only helps the person in need of a transplant, it can also benefit donor families.
“It’s such a wonderful thing to know that their loved one is living on and helping someone else,” Drury said. “It’s the ultimate gift a person can give.”
Drury, Kaiser and Heiing said they encourage people to register as an organ donor when they get their driver’s license or when they write their living will. For those deciding whether or not to sign up as a donor, the LOOP website allows online registration for anyone with a valid driver’s license or state identification card.
It was a decision Payne’s donor family made, and it was a decision that gave her another chance at life. At age 29, Payne is an author, public speaker and senior project manager for a publishing company. She is also married, and is looking to adopt a child.
She said that despite all she has gone through, she is a better person because of it.
“I try to live a very selfless life,” she said. “I try to live with my focus on other people and not myself, so I think it’s changed me and I’m very thankful. I wouldn’t change what I’ve gone through.”
Reach John Bush at 567-242-0456 or on Twitter @bush_lima.