Giving the Gift of Life After Death

In 1992, my wife, Carol, was diagnosed with hyper-tense kidneys: high blood pressure caused by poor kidney function, which was made worse by her high blood pressure. This endless cycle was systematically decreasing her kidney function. We were told that she would need dialysis or a kidney transplant. Carol’s older brother, Mike Fisher, volunteered to be a living donor. Their match was exceptional – to the point that the doctor, Dr. John Najarian of the University of Minnesota Medical Center, said it was as if Carol was receiving a kidney identical to her own.

After her transplant on Nov. 4, 1993, Carol enjoyed 26 years of life until Feb. 20, 2019, when she died of a massive coronary as we were leaving her doctor’s office. Despite immediate care from a team of eight doctors and nurses there, she was gone. Her years of fighting the good fight were over, and she had gained her reward for a life well lived. I spent the evening grieving and fielding calls from across the country and internationally. Carol was much loved by all. Our family was saddened but knew it was inevitable. She had lived a good life – able to see both of our sons married, our three grandchildren born and their progression through their religious education. We were blessed.

When I went to bed that night, I had my cell phone on the nightstand in case a family member might call. At midnight, I received a call from Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh! I didn’t know anyone in Pittsburgh, so I rejected the call and went back to sleep. At 4:30 a.m., the phone rang, and it was Pittsburgh, again! I decided to stop this once and for all. The lady on the phone said, “Mr. Wheeler, please do not hang up. I am calling you from CORE regarding Carol’s wish to be an organ donor.” [CORE stands for Center for Organ Recovery and Education, one of two Organ Procurement Organizations (OPOs), in Pennsylvania. The other is Gift of Life Donor Program, both valued partners of the Masonic Blood+Organ Donor Program].

Those were magic words. I agreed to discuss Carol’s wish and medical history with her. She explained that time was of the essence, and a team would be dispatched to the hospital to recover some of Carol’s tissue and organs. I asked how she could even be considered, given her condition, 18 daily medications and 26 years of dialysis. I learned Carol’s corneas would help others see, her tissue could help burn victims and that her major bones could benefit others now, and through research, into the future. I agreed to the retrieval and know that Carol smiled down from Heaven. CORE has informed our family that two people can now see, thanks to Carol’s love and donation. Research can be continued, and possible treatments or cures may be found, thanks to these gifts. Carol lives on, and we know others are blessed and benefit because Carol cared enough to help others throughout her life and after.

I am blessed to be an Ambassador for the Masonic Blood+Organ Donor Program as well as the CORE Representative for Bradford County, PA, and Chemung County, NY. As an ambassador, I get to share with our brethren the valuable opportunity to give the gift of life. Since ours is a rural district many of our brethren have a farming background. I often liken organ donation to having a 60-year-old John Deere Model A tractor out behind the barn that is not being used. If a neighbor were to come along and needed a solenoid for a John Deere A, they would probably say, “There is one out back. Go take what you need.” Organ donation is the same. After your soul is in Heaven, if there are spare parts someone can use, tell them, “There are some out back; take what you need.” We can’t take our organs to Heaven, and God knows we need them here.,.

As Masons, we are taught to do good to everyone, especially those who are of the household of the faithful. Organ donation is a perfect, selfless example of doing good for everyone, even those we do not know. This is the essence of pure charity. I encourage every brother and their family members to become blood and organ donors.

If you have not previously registered as an organ donor on your Pennsylvania driver’s license, please consider doing so by visiting the Donate Life PA website, or learn more on our Organ Donation page. Visit our Blood Donor page for additional resources and information on blood donations.

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