Living donor turned donor mother reflects  |  November 23, 2010

Darlene  shares her story – including her family’s three generations of donation and her choice to work for an organ procurement organization

(Photos: Donor Shannon Miller; Shannon's mother, Darlene Aymerich, with Shannon's kidney recipients. Darlene is a living donor.)

On Sunday October 27th, 1996 at about 7:30 am, I received a phone call from the State Police telling me that my 27-year-old daughter Shannon had been injured in a car accident.  I arrived at the hospital 30 minutes later to be told that Shannon was in surgery.  Over the next several hours that seemed like days, several of my family members joined me at the hospital and we waited and prayed together.

 Finally, a doctor came into the waiting room to tell me about Shannon’s condition.  She had a laceration to the liver and they had a difficult time trying to stop the internal bleeding.  When I was finally able to visit her in her room, she was hooked up to a ventilator and several IV lines.  She did not have any facial injuries and appeared to be doing okay. I said her name and tried talking to her, but there was no response.  I held her hand and it was soft and warm. It brought back memories of when I was in the hospital two years earlier, when I donated one of my kidneys to my brother. (Then, when I had woken up after surgery, she was sitting next to my bed holding my hand and in her other hand was a can of diet Pepsi that I had made her promise to have waiting for me.)

 Two neurosurgeons came in to speak to me.  Shannon had not been wearing her seatbelt when her accident occurred and she was ejected out the back window of her new Nissan pickup truck that she had owned for just 3 months. In addition to the laceration to her liver, she sustained a gash from the blow to the back of her head. They had done several tests to check Shannon’s brain activity and they were all negative.  There was no brain activity, no pain or pupil response, no blood flow to her brain. Shannon was brain dead.

 I am a registered nurse so I understood what they were telling me, but I didn’t want to believe it. I was numb with pain. At that point another man came in and told me he was sorry to hear about my daughter’s accident. He then asked me if I would consider organ and tissue donation.  I answered, “yes, definitely.”

 That was the most tragic day of my life. As a parent I had never thought about planning my daughter’s funeral; I dreamt about planning her wedding. The only reason I was able to answer his question was because I remembered discussing my kidney donation with Shannon 2 years earlier.  She said “I’m so proud of you Mom for what you are doing for Uncle Johnny, and I hope that someday I’ll be able to save lives by donating my organs.” And she did. I don’t know if I would have been able to make the decision to donate at that time if Shannon and I hadn’t discussed it previously. But I’m confident I did what she wanted, and know she’s looking down now and saying “thanks mom for letting me give the gift of life.”

 Shannon became an organ, tissue and eye donor that day. Her kidneys were recovered and I have since met both of the recipients and their families. Her heart valves went to 2 children: a 2-year-old boy and a 5-month-old girl, who were both born with heart defects. Her bone was recovered for transplant and she was the first knee en bloc (excised from mid-femur to mid-tibia) in the Western New York area. She also donated skin and tendons. Her corneas were recovered and transplanted into two women in the Albany, NY area.  Shannon was able to help approximately 40 people through her organ, tissue and eye donations.

 Being a Donor Mom is the only positive thing that happened that tragic day. Donation was what I focused on to get me through the days ahead. Now, there are three generations of donation in my family. I am a living donor; I gave my brother a kidney in 1993. In 1996 Shannon became a deceased organ & tissue donor and in 2005 my mom passed away and was a cornea donor.

 Additionally, I now work for Upstate New York Transplant Services, an organ procurement organization, as a family services manager. I have been with UNYTS for almost 12 years. In my role, I go into hospitals and support people who are losing a loved one who has the possibility of becoming a donor. People often remark that I must have the worst job in the world. But I don’t feel that way at all. I love my job. I have met some of the nicest people at the worst times of their lives. I am passionate about helping them get through the same thing that I experienced.

Darlene Aymerich

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