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Waiting for a hero: Organ donation saves lives

Growing up, we often see heroes as first responders entering a burning building or arriving at the scene of an accident. We see heroes in capes, flying through the pages of our comic books and television shows. But two years ago, my definition of a hero changed drastically.

There I was, pressed against the cold, hard surface of the operating table beneath me. I saw the bright lights shining above me and heard nurses shuffling around the room. In the distance, I could hear the faint sound of various machines beeping. Despite my fears, a sense of calm began to wash over me. I knew my life was about to begin. I was about to be given a second chance, all thanks to a selfless individual. A hero I would never get the chance to thank.

I almost died when I was 19 years old. I had lived a healthy life, rarely even catching the common cold. Suddenly, my body began to show signs that something was not right. It was determined, just in time, that it was my heart. I was in the end stages of heart failure, leaving the doctors with very few options left to revive me. I was put on the regional heart transplant waiting list and began the longest and most difficult five months of my life.

Imagine an empty football stadium. Picture the thousands of seats waiting to be filled by eager fans. Visualize the hundreds of rows in the stadium, with sections spreading up to the sky. The empty stadium exaggerating the overwhelming amount of seats. Now, understand this, the largest football stadium in the United States could not fit the number of patients waiting on the national transplant list.

Think about the number of times you catch yourself gazing at the clock each day – counting the minutes until a shift of work is over, eagerly awaiting a class period to end or measuring the seconds until the weekend. Every ten minutes that pass by, another person is added to the national transplant waiting list.

I was once on that list. Each day I would wake up in my small, dull hospital room wondering if perhaps that would be the day my life changed forever. Wondering if that would be the day my life would really begin. I was once on that list, counting down the hours, the minutes, the seconds, waiting to feel healthy, waiting to be free. I was once on that list waiting for a hero.

My call came in April of 2016. I went into the operating room a few hours later and underwent a long and difficult surgery. The donor heart was transplanted and began beating on its own. My life restarted that April and I have vowed, since that moment, to never take a second of this beautiful and precious life for granted. Since my heart transplant, I have been able to travel, return to school, work in awesome places, take advantage of wonderful opportunities and simply enjoy the world around me. I think about my donor every day and am reminded by them through everything I do.

As a college student, I am very aware of how stressful the semester can get. Between balancing multiple classes, jobs, extra-curricular activities and a social life, the weeks can feel insanely daunting. But my my brush with death and the journey that followed taught me more about myself and the world around me than I could have ever imagined. Despite what the news might say or what one may feel in the midst of an all-nighter studying for midterms, life really is wonderful.

Prior to my own experience, I had never thought much about the process of organ donation. Often, people are not necessarily against the topic, but instead, have simply never taken the time to register. In other cases, individuals may have deeply misunderstood the process.

An organ donor can save up to eight lives. A donor can give up to eight individuals the opportunity to see another tomorrow, to experience another milestone, to celebrate another birthday. Each individual who is enrolled as a donor is a hero in my eyes – the absolute highest form of a hero.

I stumbled upon a quotation from Maya Angelou recently that read, “Anyone of us can be a rainbow in somebody’s clouds.” I pondered this for a long while, thinking over and over again how important this simple fact is.

Not every person will grow up to be the kind of hero illustrated in books or through the entertainment industry. Not every person will put out fires, teach others, raise money, change the world or discover a cure for diseases. But every person can save a life, and that in itself is a beautiful fact.

Humans of Hofstra: Pamela Vallejos

Humans of Hofstra: Pamela Vallejos

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