Most of them probably don’t wear capes, but they really do save lives. Being an organ, eye or tissue donor is an extraordinary act of kindness and selflessness that warrants the same level of respect as any superhero. As April, Donate Life Month, winds down, it is still important to remember that one person has the potential to significantly change the life of many people, not to mention loved-ones of individuals, with organ donation. Nevada currently has 588 people waiting for transplants with 1,543,590 Nevadans registered as organ donors, and 106,071 people in the whole nation waiting for transplants according to the Nevada Donor Network (NDN) website. Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office, Sonoma Funeral Home, and the NDN all work together to advocate for donors and recipients in the community. With so much potential to save lives, why don’t more people choose to be donors?
There are plenty of misconceptions and false sentiments about what it means to be an organ donor. Humboldt County Undersheriff, Kevin Malone, manages organ donation arrangements through the coroner responsibilities of the sheriff’s office. His prior experience as an EMT paramedic and extensive efforts in emergency settings certifies his knowledge of the organ donation process.
Malone explained that many people don’t realize that as law enforcement, the sheriff’s office handles the coroner’s duties in the county. He added that in the tragic event of an accident or any other incident in which someone passes away due to unnatural circumstances, the sheriff’s office investigates and connects the NDN with families.
“We show a great deal of respect to our deceased and their families. We never want to see revictimization,” he said. The delicate contingency of organ donation may be painful at first, but is rewarding in the honor and continuation of life that bequesting organs and tissues can bestow on the deceased and their loved ones. Malone debunked the common notion that debases organ donation: that hospital staff will not work as hard to save someone in order to “scavenge” organs.
Speaking of his experiences in the local emergency room, he said that “when a person comes in they are assessed and treated. They don’t even find out about donors until their patient is stable or deceased. It is never even questioned before then.”
Malone added that every aspect of the organ donation process is “absolutely about saving lives.”
Malone did not know he had been a recipient himself when he had surgery to repair the ACL in his knee. He said he only found out the ligaments that he received had been donated after he began managing the coroner’s duties. He also has a very close family member that has a second chance at life because they received an organ donation, making the topic particularly special. Malone added that the advocacy of organ donation by the Sheriff’s Office is a team effort, requiring the whole department. The work they do would not be possible without the recommendation of retired officer, Andy Rorex, and support of the efforts by Sheriff Mike Allen, Malone said.
Of course the recipients of organ donation or tissue donation received incredible benefits, but what about the donor? Lead Pastor at the Living Stones Winnemucca Church, Brad Borowski, donated his kidney to a family friend in 2014. He explained the significance of being able to help someone in this way and how easy recovery is.
“Honestly, it’s a no-brainer. If you have extra of something and someone needs it to live? It’s not even a hard question,” he said. Pastor Borowski happily reported that he is impervious to the surgery today and the whole process is well worth a few days or weeks of discomfort in order to save a life. Undergoing surgery is also a common concern for most donors.
“I was walking around, doing fine three days later,” he exclaimed.
There are no special or spiritual callings, or previous public servant prerequisites involved in being an organ donor. Undersheriff Malone expressed that “you don’t even have to be a good person to donate,” but one can still turn out a hero.
The local funeral home, Sonoma Funeral Home, and its three employees: General Manager Marlene Shier, Funeral Director Kailynn Yetter, and Removalist Steve Carne, aid families through the process of preparation and final arrangements and the heartache that comes after losing someone. Shier laid to rest the notion that the families of organ donors are unable to have open caskets or private viewings of their loved ones after donation. Shier assured that “donation is a time-sensitive decision, Sonoma Funeral Home and the donation agency work together to ensure there are no delays and that time frames requested for service are met.”
According to Shier, Sonoma Funeral Home typically handles ocular, or eye tissue donations (which restore vision to someone with cornea issues), skin tissues (which usually help burn victims or victims with other epidermic injuries, and aid in reconstructive surgery), and musculoskeletal (bone and other connective tissues that promote healing in many different types of traumas). Shier said that the skin donations allow a donor to be able to help “up to 75 people.”
She added that the funeral home staff believes that “the gift of donation is one of the most honorable and giving things a person can do for someone else.”
The amazing efforts of the Sonoma Funeral Home were recognized by the NDN in the previous years as the funeral home was named Funeral Partner of the Year in 2020 and 2021.
Shier advises that individuals make their donation wishes known to loved ones, as they play an incredibly vital role in the donation process.
The Community Development Manager of the Nevada Donor Network, Monica Myles, said via email that registering as an organ donor is very easy. As many know, it can be done at the DMV, during any regular visit. Myles called the DMV staff “front line advocates” for donation, and commended them for their efforts. She also said that anyone can and should register anytime at www.registerme.org.