Lidio Gonzalez loved life. His wife, Edith, remembers how he would bring home injured ducks and pigeons from the park near their home in Los Angeles and nurse them back to health. But four years ago, without warning, at the age of 34, Lidio died when blood vessels in his brain ruptured.
Through her grief, Edith, only 33 at the time, saw that even in death his giving nature could be a legacy to help others. Supported by a message she had read from Pope John Paul II that the Catholic Church considers organ donation the ultimate act of love, she donated his lungs, liver and kidneys -- and has always been glad of it.
Supported by her daughter, Meredith, now 9, she has become a vigorous advocate for donation as a volunteer with OneLegacy, the federally-designated non-profit organization that oversees organ and tissue donation in most of Southern California. "Being an ambassador for this cause has helped me view painful memories in a different light," she says. "I no longer feel sorry for myself."
On Jan. 2, Edith, along with 22 others whose lives have been transformed by organ and tissue donation, will ride a float in the 117th annual Rose Parade in Pasadena to remind the millions of people who are watching either on the parade route or on television that they too have an opportunity to change the world. Appropriately, the theme of this year's parade is "It's Magical."
I remember the moment when I first saw clearly the impact that opportunities like that can have. It was 11 years ago, four months after our 7-year-old son, Nicholas, had been shot in the head in a botched robbery while we were on a family vacation in Italy.
We donated his organs and corneas and had gone back to Italy to meet his seven recipients. The occasion was carefully staged so that we would see them and their families all at once. The door opened and in came this mass of humanity -- some smiling, some tearful, some ebullient, some shy. The sheer numbers were overwhelming.
"Did one little body do all this?" I asked myself. And yes it did. It restored the sight of two parents of young children and saved five terminally-ill people, four of them teenagers, when no other cure was possible. Eleven years later all seven are living productive lives.
But that is only the tip of the iceberg. Every year organ and tissue donations save countless others from a lifetime of sorrow -- the parents and grandparents of recipients, their brothers and sisters, sons and daughters. But even that is not all: think of the aunts and uncles, cousins and friends, all of whose lives would have been diminished if there had been no donation, the friends they'll make as they go through life whom they would never have known, the people they'll marry, the children they'll have. So, from generation to generation, the effects reverberate of decisions that are so obvious to many donor families that they make them without hesitation.
Yet donation rates are still at a level where every day in this country 16 people on the waiting list die. Many solutions are discussed but one is so simple that anyone reading this article can do it. It's this: tell your nearest relatives that, when you die, you would like to donate whatever organs and tissue the doctors can use.
If you just did that, it would probably be enough but, to record your decision and make sure your wishes are honored, you should sign up with the Donate Life California Organ and Tissue Donor Registry. You can do that either on line at www.donateLIFEcalifornia.org or, beginning in July 2006, when you apply for or renew your driver's license or ID card.
That's all there is to it. By that simple act you can rescue up to 50 people from death or pain and bring joy to their families. With stakes that high, I often wonder what possible debate there can be about what is the right thing to do.
For more on the Donate Life Rose Parade Float please see www.donatelifefloat.org.
(Guest columnist Reg Green is a resident of La Cañada Flintridge.)