The following tribute was written in April 2007 by donor mom Kristie Nielson Corning.
We all look ahead, embracing the ideas of what will come - our hopes, our dreams, and the mystery of unknown opportunity. We look forward to the time our children take their first steps and say their first words. We lovingly watch their smiles and the twinkle in their eyes.
We promise to shelter them – picking them up when they fall. We plan for their graduations and hope we live to experience the joy of holding grandchildren steadfastly in our arms. We capture those moments in time so we never forget.
Time stopped on August 19, 2003. How could life have cheated me? More importantly, how could life have cheated her? We are told that life is ever so fragile, but we never really know just how fragile until we are forced to face the unthinkable. My experience stands among many, many others who grieve the loss of a child. There is no greater pain.
She was 21 years young. She lived life to its fullest. On August 16, 2003, she suffered a massive bleed to the left side of her brain. The cause - arteriovenous malformation, a congenital condition that presents no symptoms until, most often, it is too late. For her, it was too late. She was pronounced brain dead 3 days later.
She is Annie… she is my daughter.
I can’t forget - nor would I want to forget - her smile and her laughter, the twinkle in her eye and all her hopes and dreams. Not a day goes by where I don’t think about Annie and the future I had hoped for her. Now she lays silent - forever young.
My life will never be the same. My experience? My experience is only living… living with the tragic death of my daughter and understanding how my loss has given hope to others.
In death, the "gift of life" was given to four people. You see, Annie was an organ donor. That had been her choice. That is now her legacy. I find comfort in knowing that I was able to carry out her final wishes because of conversations we had about organ donation. It was the last thing I was able to do for my daughter.
The Illness and the Gift
Mike Greiner, now 38, a husband and father to a 9-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter, suffered from type 1 juvenile diabetes since age 5. Type 1 diabetes makes its sufferers dependent on insulin. It can cause complications including kidney failure, blindness, nerve damage or loss of limbs.
Mike was OK for most of his life. But in 1998, his doctor started talking about the potential need for a kidney/pancreas transplant. It was then that Mike realized how serious his illness was. His kidney function quickly declined. Mike was put on the donation waiting list at the University of Wisconsin Hospital.
And so it began… waiting for the call that might save his life. After a potential match fell through in July 2003, Mike and his family yet again waited for that life-saving phone call.
"Your entire life is focused on that call. You've got bags packed by your door. Every call that rings, you're nervous. Every time your cell phone doesn't have a signal, you're scared to death that call is going to be at that time," he said. "It was probably one of the most nerve-wracking things we've ever been through. This call is literally your life."
Mike got that call August 19th. The organs were a match and the transplant was a success. Tests showed that his blood sugar levels normalized immediately during the surgery, and the pancreas worked perfectly. He was up and about soon after. Medical staff had never seen such positive results so quickly.
And to think this all happened less than 24 hours after my daughter died. My Annie, my daughter who was taken so tragically, had given light to a man, to a family, facing total darkness.
UW Organ and Tissue Donation helps unite donor families and recipients that want to meet. I had been told that connections are not always made because one or the other party is not comfortable doing so.
It didn't matter. If I could just get information on how the recipients were doing after the transplant, I would be satisfied. Completing my release of information, I waited to hear from someone…. anyone. It seemed like forever.
That day came. I got home from work and in the mail was what I had been waiting for. Now that I had Mike's phone number, I found myself wondering what to do next. What would I say? What would he say? Were we both afraid to take the first step?
I think Annie gave me the strength to know the answer. Through my tears, I wanted to wonder no more. I made the call.
Words were not easy as we struggled to find just the right thing to say. We stumbled through our initial conversation and managed to arrange a meeting of the families. I had no idea what to expect. How would I feel? He had a new start on life. Annie never had a chance. Would I be able to keep everything in perspective? Again, I felt Annie’s presence - she would show me the way.
It has been almost 4 years now, and each time Mike and his family come to UW Hospital for annual checks, we meet. We keep in touch between those visits. It warms me to know that he will be able to watch his children grow. He can age gracefully with his wife and realize those hopes and dreams that seemed so far away not so long ago.
The journey is long and never-ending. I continue to learn how to live with the unthinkable. I continue to learn how great the gift of life is. I should have been Annie's guardian angel. Instead, she is mine. She is part of everything I do. I tell my story in her memory.
In closing, I'd like to share a poem that Mike wrote in honor of Annie. I call it Annie's Song:
We work, we play
Regarding our todays,
Maybe our tomorrows.
This is not the song of a hero.
Earning dollars, maybe cents;
Pride our only instrument;
Looking only in the mirror for meaning.
This is not the song of a hero.
But a heart that beats for more than one;
Whose final act is selfless;
This is the song of a hero.
This is the song of Annie.
It’s the song I wake to.
A song she sang to me
Knowing we would never meet.
And I live only because of her melody.
And now I must sing Annie’s song
As surely as I live,
Changing lives, selfless acts,
Giving to each whatever they lack.
Teaching them Annie’s song;
Giving true life, true meaning.
And Annie’s song shall live forever…
Organ donation is a personal choice. Know the facts and talk with your family. Make your wishes known. If you choose to "Donate Life," place the donor dot on your driver's license, keep a donor card with you and register your intent online at www.donatelifewisconsin.org.
One of Mike's passions is writing. He has begun writing a book about his experience and has launched a greeting card company. He and his wife, Sheri, along with son Levi and daughter Chloe, are planning a 9-month trip across the U.S.
Chloe is also the name of Annie's cat. I often wonder... how would we have known?