Dan's Story: Our Journey Through Organ Donation

Dan (pictured) donated his organs after succumbing to injuries received in a car accident. His mother, Sherry, tells his story.


Dan May, organ donorOur oldest child, Dan, was involved in a car crash on November 10, 1996. The injuries that Dan received left him brain dead at the age of 21. Seeing our son lying in the intensive care unit on life support machines and being told he was brain dead seemed like such a waste of a good life. When Dan's nurse approached us about the possibility of donation, we felt something good could come from a rotten situation.

A team from Madison came to St. Vincent Hospital to recover Dan's organs. We were very happy to agree to Dan becoming both an organ and tissue donor. We knew that Dan was not going to survive, but thought that now he had the opportunity to save and improve other people's lives. We were asked to sign a permission form that indicated what organs and tissues we were willing to donate. Our feeling was if someone else could use any of Dan's donations, then we should let those people use it. We thought that anything that we buried with Dan was just wasted. We signed consent to donate organs, eyes, skin, bone and connective tissue.

We left the hospital that day before the team for UW Madison arrived. It had been a long morning and we had gotten very little sleep. I was having a very hard time being at he hospital, knowing we could do nothing for Dan. It just did not make any sense to me to continue doing that when in my heart I knew he was gone. Later I felt that I had abandoned him that morning, and wished I had stayed with him until the end. It is strange how your emotions change as time goes by.

We received two phone calls from UW-Madison during the early afternoon of November 10 with information concerning Dan's donation. I didn't have the opportunity to meet any of the team who recovered organs and tissue from Dan, so I called St. Vincent's Hospital on the following day to ask what organs were recovered. I was told that his heart, liver, kidneys and pancreas were recovered. His lungs were not usable due to several factors.


Two weeks later, on the day after Thanksgiving, I received a letter from the recipient of Dan's kidney and pancreas. A few weeks later, a letter from UW-Madison arrived informing us that Dan's heart, liver, kidney/pancreas and other kidney were all transplanted. They shared a little information about the recipients.


That letter brought tears to our eyes, knowing that something good had come from Dan's death. In January, a letter arrived from Dan's liver recipient, and in May, the day before Mothers Day, a letter from Dan's kidney recipient arrived. We had now heard from three of Dan's four recipients. It was one year before Dan's heart recipient contacted us. I had sent him two letters through the hospital during this year and he had our name and phone number and one Sunday afternoon in November 1997 he called.


He will never realize how he made my day with that phone call. It was around the first anniversary of Dan's death and I was feeling pretty down. Then there I was talking to the man who had Dan's heart! Since that phone call we have been fortunate enough to meet in person with Dan's heart recipient, Don; liver recipient, Jackie; and his kidney/pancreas recipient, Debbie. It is so wonderful to be able to put a face with a name, and to see that they are just ordinary people living life.

Since Dan's death I have become educated about organ and tissue donation, and have been very active in spreading the word. I will speak to any group, classroom or person who asks to talk about the good things that come out of donation. I feel that the more informed a person is, the better choices they make. I represent the personal side of donation and can relate how it helped us deal with the loss of a child through all the good that Dan's donation did. I always stress to everyone the most important thing is to tell your family how you feel about donation, because your signed driver license may not always be available. The decision is much easier for families to make if this conversation has taken place.