“September 24, 2008, is a date I will never forget,” says Nicole Wlodarski. “I got the call at 1:30 in the morning that my father was being rushed to the hospital.”
Nicole’s father was a healthy, 58-year-old man with no health problems. But that night he suffered a brain aneurysm and a heart attack. After a transfer from one hospital to another and many tests, Nicole and her family learned that her father would never wake up again.
Although they knew his condition would not improve, they were “stuck in a spot medically.” Nicole says they knew he would not wake but, but he could not be declared brain-dead because the base of his brain stem was still functioning. “My father was not a registered organ donor,” Nicole says, “but we knew that he didn’t want to be on life support for an extended period of time.”
That’s when they spoke to the doctors and the people from Gift of Hope about donation.
“Being a Catholic family, we had to talk with our pastor about organ donation and where the church stood on the issue of discontinuing life support,” Nicole explains. “We learned that, simply put, discontinuing life support would lead to a greater good, so it would be supported by the Church.”
She recalls that on September 28 they donated both of his corneas, three organs and bone, skin and other tissue. “Donating in all of these ways helped to improve 25 lives,” Nicole says. “And I find comfort in the fact that in our loss we were able to help so many others.”
Nicole and her family were with her father to the very end “thanks to the support that Gift of Hope gave us,” she says. She recalls that Gift of Hope’s staff helped the family emotionally and answered all the family’s questions, sometimes multiple times. “Through the process I was very grateful to have advocates to make sure Dad was taken care of,” she says.
Nicole is now an Advocates for Hope volunteer for Gift of Hope, and she promotes the message that donation is truly a gift. She tells others her story and shares the letters of gratitude received from some of her father’s organ and tissue transplant recipients. One in particular helped her through the ordeal with her father. It included this important message: “Don’t take you organs to heaven. Heaven knows we need them here.”
Register to be an organ, eye and tissue donor at http://www.GiftofHope.org.
For more information on cornea and eye donation, visit the Illinois Eye-Bank at http://www.IllinoisEyeBank.org.