Midge's Story

Organ donor Midge Harris with her husband Don

The following tribute was written by Midge's husband, Don.


The first two questions I was asked in the ER were, "Do you want an autopsy?" and would your wife want to be an organ donor? And I thought, "This doesn't happen to me; it happens to the guy down the street, but it doesn't happen to me."


The point? It did happen to me; it could happen to anyone.


We left the house that morning to attend a friend's funeral. My wife had been diagnosed with a neuromuscular disease only a few months prior to that day and in those months she was already losing muscle strength. We parked in a ramp and, walking down a short flight of steps, she fell, hitting her head on a cement landing and that was the end of her life. A few minutes later I was standing in the ER being asked those two questions.


Fortunately, as far as the organ donor question was concerned, we had discussed that. Or I should say, my wife discussed it with me. She told me years before that she would like to be a donor if something ever happened to her. She had signed her driver's license and had a organ donor sticker on it. It was only natural that she would think of this. She spent her life taking care of family during difficult times and her career was spent helping people. So the answer to the question was easier for me: Yes, that's what she would want; she told me so. If we hadn't had that discussion, I don't know what I would have said.


If I had said "no," I would have buried her and walked away feeling incredibly empty. And in fact, I did bury her and walk away feeling incredibly empty. But I also found out within a week or two that by saying "yes" to that question, two people from Wisconsin were alive and recovering, one with my wife's liver and one with my wife's kidneys. I cried on receiving that letter. Partly I think because of a sense of relief that something positive happened that day that was and will always be the worst day of my life.


Several months later, I received a short letter from Mike - the man who received my wife's kidneys. After telling me a little about his family and his struggle with kidney disease and excruciating daily dialysis, he ended the letter by saying, "Thank you for my life."


Several months after that, I received a letter from Steve, the liver recipient. He explained that he had been on the transplant list for 8½ years. He had been taken by Med Flight to Madison several days before my wife fell. He was in terrible shape; he was so bent over he looked like a capital L when he walked. The night my wife died, he was being released from University Hospital, in his words, "being sent home to die." Then, something miraculous happened. A nurse came into his room and told him and his wife to wait; they had to do some more tests. Later that night he got my wife's healthy liver and within a day he was walking upright.


After all of us signed confidentiality waivers, I met both Mike and Steve and their wives. They all expressed many thanks to me for the new lives that they now have. But I explained that the thanks should go to my wife, who told me years before that if I was ever put in the position of making such a decision, she would want to be an organ donor.


The thought of being an organ donor isn't going to feel comfortable to everyone, but I encourage all to at least have the conversation with your loved ones. You might just save a life one day and meet some wonderful people in the process.


If you wish to legally register your decision to be an organ, tissue and eye donor, go to DonateLifeWisconsin.org. It only takes a minute to register and please discuss this with your family and friends. I am so grateful Midge shared her decision with me.