Monday, December 10, 2007

Organ donors = awesome

If a story like this doesn't move you to become an organ donor, I don't know what will.

From the MJS:

Thankful for organs, couple honors slain teen

It's an amazing thing, these organ transplants.

The heart beating in the chest of Bud Brauer, a German-Irish 68-year-old church worker from Glendale, came from Gabriel O. Ramirez-Lyons, a Native American-Mexican 21-year-old man murdered on Milwaukee's near south side.

"He was a perfect match," said Bud, who also received a kidney from Gabriel.

In Gabriel's honor, the Brauer family donated the 40-foot spruce that is Milwaukee County's Christmas tree this year. It had outgrown their yard.

And when the lights are switched on during a ceremony at 5:30 p.m. today in the courthouse rotunda, the Brauer family and the Ramirez-Lyons family will meet for the very first time. It's an emotional moment that many donor and recipient families never experience.

"I'm going to lose it big time, I tell you that," said Bud's wife, Mary.

In 2005, Bud began noticing he was short of breath. Eventually he was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, a hardening of the walls of the heart that limited its pumping ability. He would die without a transplant, doctors told him.

His kidneys failed, and he went on dialysis three times a week.

Bud's name was put on the waiting list for an organ donor, and on Oct. 15 of last year, the call came that a donor had been found. Bud immediately went to Aurora St. Luke's Medical Center.

What he wouldn't learn until months later was that the donor had been killed in a violent crime.

Gabriel was born in 1984, but because of instability in the life of his mother and father, he was raised by his grandmother, Refugia Ramirez, who was 58 when she took in Gabriel as a baby, said Cyndi Ramirez, Refugia's daughter.

She said Gabriel spoke excellent English and some Spanish, and his grandmother does just the opposite, so they helped each other out. In recent years, Gabriel assisted with his grandmother's health care needs.

With dozens of cousins to love, "he was just the center of attention at every party we had," Cyndi said. Gabriel struggled in school and went to work with his father, Alfredo, at a paint factory in Oak Creek.

Cyndi, who works at Froedtert Hospital and is studying to be a nurse, had spoken with Gabriel about becoming an organ donor. Not knowing he would die so young, he told her: "I certainly wouldn't need them. They can take whatever they need if it's going to help someone else."

In the early hours of Oct. 15, 2006, Gabriel and his cousin and a friend got into a fight with three other young males near 15th and Arthur Ave. Gabriel became separated from his companions and was severely beaten and kicked. He made it home but was unresponsive in the morning. He was pronounced dead at the hospital that day.

One of those arrested was later freed, and two took plea deals. A 15-year-old prosecuted in adult court got 15 years in prison. His 17-year-old accomplice has been free on bail and his sentencing keeps getting adjourned, but he can't get more than 15 years, either. Gabriel's family is unhappy that his killers will see freedom so soon.

Cyndi said she looks forward to meeting Bud.

"Having been disappointed by the justice system, it's good to know Gabriel didn't die in vain, that something good came out of this," she said. A woman received his lungs, and a man got the other kidney.

Shortly after the transplant surgery, Mary Brauer wrote a letter of thanks to the family of the donor, then unknown to her. It was forwarded by the transplant clinic to Gabriel's mother, Nelda Lyons. A few months went by and the Brauers received a note from Nelda.

"Of course, nothing can replace the physical presence of my dear son, Gabriel, in my life. But the knowledge that our donation has brought so much relief to you and your family has given us a great sense of spiritual uplifting at a time when I and our family needed it the most," she wrote.

Mary corresponded further with the family and eventually asked them to please join in at the tree lighting. The Brauers' six grown children and most of their 21 grandchildren also plan to attend.

Both families eagerly await the meeting, but they don't know what to expect. Mary said she fully understands that "our joy is their sorrow." Standing before the Ramirez-Lyons family will be Bud, but he'll be running on Gabriel power.

To take their gratitude a step further, the Brauers have started a scholarship in Gabriel's honor at Dominican High School, where some of their kids and grandkids attended. Change of Heart is the fitting name for the fund.

Bud knows this much for sure: No day of living should ever be taken for granted.

"I'll be standing there shaving and I'll say to myself, 'This is absolutely amazing.' "

Can't say much more about that. Just wanted to share.


Critical Badger said...

Thoughts on being an organ donor with regard to the religious question? I am currently one according to my ID, but according to my rabbi, I would not be allowed in to the family (jewish, duh) cemetary, which means a lot to me. Or is really the only answer: how much do you weigh the religion vs. the saved lives?

Emily said...

CB: It's a tricky question. If your religious beliefs preclude you from being a donor, that's to be respected, of course.

I personally believe that if the creators of those very old rules (about needing to have your body remain whole to be able to reach heaven or be buried in a certain place) might have changed their minds if they'd been around to see developments in medicine and transplant technology.

But then I'm not Jewish, so what I believe only counts for me. Ultimately, it's up to the individual, and I wouldn't come after someone who declined being a donor based on well-thought out religious beliefs. I'll be honest, though, and say that it would be a little disappointing. But so it goes.

The Lost Albatross