Wineka column: Quilts remind families of organ donors

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 28, 2012

WINSTON-SALEM — Table by table, the families walked up to the podium, usually leaving it to one representative — a daughter, wife, son, sister, mother, father or brother — to tell their story of loss.
By the end of the night, there were 16 homemade quilt squares pinned to a board up front.
I saw a mother sob uncontrollably before collecting herself again to recall how her 29-year-old son, now gone, loved the smell of turned dirt and freshly mown hay.
Another mother talked of having to identify her 15-year-old daughter, a pedestrian killed when she was struck by a car.
“Our whole world changed when we got to the emergency room,” she said. The mother resisted going to see her daughter at first. She didn’t want her last memory to be the girl’s beat-up body, but there wasn’t a bruise or scratch on her precious face.
She was thankful, at least, for that.
A daughter said she lost her 52-year-old mother to a brain aneurysm right before Christmas last year. But she found solace, as everyone else did in the room Thursday night, that her mother’s harvested kidneys and liver gave life to other people.
That’s what each quilt square represented — the memory of an organ and tissue donor.
“I hope that one day we’ll get to meet those people,” the daughter said, “because it’s nice to know she lives in someone else.”
Last December when I renewed my driver’s license, I asked to be an organ donor. The N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles has put a small red heart on the front of my license, letting medical people know, I guess, that if I ever end up freshly dead in a hospital, my body can be used to help someone else live.
That’s a weird concept to wrap our heads around, I know, as it was for many of the family survivors of donors over the past year.
Ruth Boone, who lost her 23-year-old son to a May 2011 car accident, said taking her brain-dead son off life support after three days was the hardest thing she will ever have to do.
He had indicated on his driver’s license that he wanted others to live on — a good way to think of organ donations — and she honored that request.
His body’s tissue helped 20 burn victims. He also donated both his kidneys and both his eyes. His heart was harvested for someone else.
“We feel like he put a lot of life back into people,” the mother said.
On separate occasions, Boone has walked back from her mailbox at home, crying, because she has received a letter from one of the people who received an eye and is now able to see again.
It’s illuminating to hear about the donors. A young couple standing at the podium had lost their first-born son when he was only five days old, yet his tiny heart and liver helped two other infants to live.
When they asked themselves why losing their son had happened to them, “that was our answer,” the mother said.
There were shotgun victims who were donors. There were men my age (55) who had died from heart attacks, and there were, sadly, many young victims of traffic accidents.
In some cases, their survivors had no clue they had asked to be donors. In other situations, Carolina Donor Services requested the organs and tissue. One mother said she actually sought out the donor organization when her 38-year-old son, Leon, died.
“I approached them,” she said, because at 22, Leon had received a kidney from someone else, and it gave him 16 years of life he may not have had.
To me, the great thing about organ and tissue donors is that race, gender and sexuality don’t figure into the process. It never comes up — and that’s the easy thing to wrap your head around.
A year ago, Shirley and Grady Moss of Salisbury stood at the Carolina Donor Services’ “Celebration of Life” podium as their son, Ernest, spoke about the life of his sister, Karina Evette Moss.
Karina died Jan. 18, 2011, when she was only 34. She had registered as an organ and tissue donor through the DMV before her health kept her from driving. She continued, however, to drop subtle hints into her conversations with Shirley to remind her mother she wanted to be a donor.
From the time she was in her late teens, Karina had been suffering blood clots, and her need to be near emergency care eventually had forced her into an assisted-living facility in Spencer. Still, her death came suddenly for the Moss family.
With Granite Knitwear’s help, the Mosses made and designed a 13-inch cloth square they presented at last year’s ceremony. It included a photograph of Karina, the dates of her life and the words “Victory Is Mine,” the title of her favorite hymn.
Now that square has been incorporated into one of the organization’s quilts, which are displayed at community and state events. The Moss family attended this year’s “Celebration of Life” ceremony in Winston-Salem to see the finished quilt.
I gladly sat with them.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or mwineka@