More than 100,000 Americans are waiting for an organ transplant this year. Unfortunately, 6,000 of those individuals will die before the organ they need is available.
Carolyn Henry Glaspy's personal story of tragedy has became a source of hope for others, and a call to action to save the lives of those waiting for organ transplants.
In 2009, a fatal fall from the back of a pickup severely injured Glaspy's son, former Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chris Henry.
Paramedics rushed Henry to the emergency room at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, N. C., where he succumbed to his injuries the next day.
"When I laid my head on Chris' chest, I always knew he was a giver, but just to feel his heart beat, it actually went into mine," Glaspy recalled.
When doctors informed Glaspy that her son was dead, she was faced with the difficult decision of whether or not to donate his organs and tissue.
Despite the growing need for organs, only 43 percent of Americans 18 and over have actually registered as organ donors.
Furthermore, some family members are afraid if they agree to donate a loved one's organs that doctors will quit trying to save a sick or injured person's life.
According to the non-profit Donate Life America, this isn't true. They say a hospital's number one priority is to save a person's life and that organ and eye tissue donations can only be considered after a person is dead.
There are others who are fearful their loved one's body will be dismembered once organs and tissue have been removed.
Donate Life America says that isn't true either. An open-casket funeral is possible even after the removal of organs and tissue.
"When Chris came back to me, they promised me my son was going to be in the same condition that I left him," Glaspy said. "When I looked at him, he was."
In the spring of 2012, three years following her son's death, Glaspy returned to Carolinas Medical Center to thank both the medical staff who she says provided an excellent level of care for her son as well as employees with LifeShare of the Carolinas, the not-for-profit organ procurement organization that guided her through the organ donation process.
Five complete strangers received Chris Henry's organs, including Donna Arnold.
"I received a pancreas and kidney. So, it did away with my diabetes and dialysis," Arnold said.
Brian Polk received Henry's second kidney, and he says it was just in the nick of time.
"You go through this battle for so long, and it's like you see the finish line," Polk added.
Henry's heart, lungs and liver went to three other individuals who, later, died.
An organ match is better if the donor and the recipient are from the same ethnic background. That's why there's a huge need for organ donors from ethnic minorities.
"It's just a blessing that she had the spirit and the heart to give," Polk said. "When she [Carolyn Henry Glaspy] gave, it made a tremendous difference in my life."
By sharing her story, Glaspy said she hopes to make a tremendous difference in the lives of others who are in need of an organ transplant and to encourage those who haven't made the choice to donate their organs, to do just that.
To become an organ donor, the most important thing you can do is sign up on your state's donor registry, or say "yes" the next time you're at the Department of Motor Vehicles office.
You should also make it very clear to your immediate family members and friends that you have made the decision to donate your organs.
If you would like to sign up to be an organ donor, go to www.donatelife.net. This site provides a map that will tell you how to sign up in the state where you live.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Since our interview with Carolyn Glaspy, we have learned she will be a rider on the Donate Life America float in the Rose Parade on New Year's Day (2013). She is one of 32 people touched by organ and tissue donation selected to be on the float. For more information, click here.
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