I recently had surgery on my left arm. It is the second such surgery in five years. I had the same fusion performed on the bones in my right thumb and wrist in 2012 to relieve pain from arthritis. Only this second surgery was slightly different. This time, the surgeon inserted tissue from a donor in two different areas of my wrist.
Certainly this was far less dramatic than receiving a lung or heart from a donor. The entire procedure is out-patient and there is no chance that the tissue will be rejected.
For any type of surgery where a donor is involved, the recipient has the option of writing to the family. This, in my case, is done through the Musculoskeletal Transplant Foundation in New Jersey. The donor is anonymous, but I was given a label to include with a card or letter through which the foundation can track the donor's family and forward any correspondence.
It took me several weeks to even figure out what to say, but I finally came up with the following:
I recently received a tissue donation from your loved one, and I am writing to thank you for the gift you and your family member have given me: the ability to once again use my left hand.
I suffer from arthritis in the thumb and wrist on both arms, which made basic tasks very painful. I had a fusion on the bones in my right hand and wrist in 2012. In January I had the same procedure done on my left arm, only this time the surgeon included grafts to replace some of the tissue that had degraded.
I cannot imagine the circumstances under which I came to receive this generous gift, nor can I comprehend the pain of the loss you must have experienced in order for me to receive it. All I can do is express gratitude to you as this donation will allow me to function normally and with much less pain. I am a writer, a quilter and an avid gardener, all of which had become difficult to do prior to the surgery.
Please know that I will keep your family in my prayers, including the one you lost. I hope you will take comfort in the fact that a small portion of your loved lives on in me, as well as so many others. This donation will make a world of difference in my life. I promise to put it to good use and will never forget what your family has done for me.
The family has the option of responding, but whether or not I hear back is unimportant. Besides, the small amount of tissue I received pales in comparison to someone who received the heart or liver that literally saved their lives.
But that is not the point. The smallest gifts can make the biggest difference in the life of another person. And to the recipient of even the tiniest donation that gets their life back on track and allows them to function more normally, it is the biggest and greatest gift ever received.
I signed up many years ago to be an organ and tissue donor and have made sure my family is clear about my wishes. And I urge you to do the same. The material things we collect are just objects to be donated to charity and farmed out to family members as small reminders of the life we left behind. But the gift of life will allow us to live on in others. I can think of nothing better I would like to leave to someone if the time ever comes.
As the moral of Aesop's Fable The Lion and the Mouse explains, "No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted." To whoever it was who left this small act of kindness to me, thank you. You have changed lives in ways both large and small. Your generosity will never be forgotten, and will be repaid many times over. May God keep you in His loving care and bless your family for the kindness, courage and integrity it took to give this ultimate gift to so many.