I never imagined how much organ and tissue donation would shape my life. I remember the day my college diploma arrived in the mail. It had been two months since graduation, but only a week since McKenzie had died. The memories came flooding in: the family photos we took around campus, the celebratory meal and the talk of McKenzie’s college graduation being only two short years away. I never imagined that day wouldn’t come.
McKenzie was my younger brother by twenty months. He was diagnosed with hypoplastic left heart syndrome at birth. My parents chose transplantation, and our lives were forever changed. McKenzie received his heart transplant when he was 13 days old at Riley Hospital. He spent two months in the hospital and was able to celebrate his first Christmas at home. Our childhood was filled with extra visits to the doctor, family vacations, routine blood draws and the typical sibling bickering. We were normal. I grew up knowing I was lucky to have a healthy brother and prepared that at some point in the future he’d have to go through a second transplant. However, this was never dwelled on. Instead, we focused on getting good grades, making lasting friendships and enjoying our childhood. When the time came for transplant round two, we’d tackle it during the moment.
As childhood turned into adulthood, my world was turned upside down. Three months shy of his 21st birthday, McKenzie fell asleep on a Sunday afternoon and never woke up. Being raised as an eternal optimist meant I never (not once) thought about this day. I firmly believed McKenzie would live forever and heart transplants would be something we’d always tackle together. Instead, it was McKenzie’s turn to heal others through the gift of tissue donation. Tissue donation not only helped the nearly 75 people impacted by McKenzie’s gift, but it helped me in my grief journey. Knowing McKenzie would live on and that his story wouldn’t stop, gave me an immeasurable amount of comfort.
This summer will mark seven years that McKenzie has been gone. While it’s difficult to watch that number grow year over year, I am also reminded of the number 21. How lucky was I to have nearly 21 years with McKenzie? Twenty-one years packed with memories, inside jokes and photographs to last my lifetime. It’s never lost on me how fortunate I was to have the gift of McKenzie; all because another family said yes to organ donation.
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