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placeholder April 22, 2013   •   VOL. 51, NO. 8   •   Oakland, CA
Letters from Readers
Miracle of a renewed life

Alfonso Garcia
Courtesy photo

Organ failure and devastating tissue injuries hang like a cloud over thousands of local Catholics, but the answer to their prayers could be someone else simply deciding to become an organ and tissue donor.

The Catholic Church has supported the idea of saving and improving lives through organ and tissue donation, beginning with Blessed John Paul II. It continued with now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI who states:

"To donate one's organs is an act of love that is moral licit as long as it is free and spontaneous. To be an organ donor means to carry out an act of love toward someone in need, toward a brother in difficulty. … As for myself, I have agreed to give my organs to whomever might be in need."

Pinole resident Alfonso Garcia is alive today because someone decided to give him a second chance through donation. At 15, Garcia, who attends St. Paul's Church in San Pablo, learned his sudden fatigue was caused by a genetic disease that was destroying his liver.

Without a transplant, he would die. After learning that news, Alfonso leaned over to his still-shaken father, Oscar, and asked that a priest be brought in to administer the last sacraments. But over the next 24 hours, a young man named George became the answer to the prayers of Alfonso and his family.

George Becker was only 16 when he signed up to be a donor when he got his driver license, never anticipating his life would end with a sinus infection when he was just 22. His donated liver saved Alfonso's life, and other organs rescued two more people.

Now 18, Alfonso carries a renewed focus on what's important in life.

"I was on the edge of dying, and through a miracle, I am alive today. It's because of a donor and his gift. I think about George every day." Alfonso and George's families have become friends. Connie, George's mom, was on hand as Alfonso moved out to begin college life at the University of San Francisco.

"I don't take anything for granted," said Alfonso. "Once I became strong enough, both my parents and I decided that we needed to make a difference by talking to people about registering as organ and tissue donors."

Today the number of people in the country needing a gift of life to survive like Alfonso exceeds 112,000. In Alameda County alone, nearly 1,400 patients wait for that second chance. One organ donor can save the lives of eight others while one tissue donor can enhance the lives of up to 50 others.

The key to saving lives is as simple as agreeing to donate organs and tissue after your death. Age and health condition are not obstacles to registering. It's also not true that medical professionals who are involved in the care of a patient in an emergency or intensive care situation work less hard to save someone who is a donor.

Californians have two ways to save the lives of others:

• Checking "Yes!" on the DMV driver license or state identification application

• Signing up on www.donatelifecalifornia.org.

A decision to donate should be shared in advance with your family. Their knowing it was your choice to give the gift of life is often a source of comfort. "Organ transplants are in conformity with the moral law if the physical and psychological dangers and risks to the donor are proportionate to the good sought for the recipient. Organ donation after death is a noble and meritorious act and is to be encouraged as an expression of generous solidarity. It is not morally acceptable if the donor or his proxy has not given explicit consent. Moreover, it is not morally admissible to bring about the disabling mutilation or death of a human being, even in order to delay the death of other persons." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2296)

(Sandy Shih Andrada is the education manager, California Transplant Donor Network, Oakland, and immediate past-president, Association for Multicultural Affairs in Transplantation.)

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