When my brother died, his legacy lived on through tissue donation

On the day we lost Billy, I did not even realize the scope of the impact that Billy’s donation would have on me.
A healthcare worker carries organ for donation in a cooler. (Robert Kneschke/Dreamstime/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

A healthcare worker carries organ for donation in a cooler. (Robert Kneschke/Dreamstime/TNS)

Like typical siblings, my big brother, Billy, and I could squabble like cats and dogs growing up, but the truth is that he was my favorite person. So much so that we even shared an apartment in college. I was in our shared apartment the morning I found out that Billy had been in an accident. Our mother said I needed to come home right away, so I dropped that phone call and headed for Marietta, where my family lived.

On the road I called my mother back and learned things were worse than I could have imagined. Billy had died. I was so devastated, I tossed my phone right out the car window onto Interstate 75. Billy was only 25 years old.

Billy was the type of guy who quickly said yes when asked for help. That is why, even though Billy had not registered as an organ donor before his death, when my parents and I spoke to the local organ and tissue donation agency, LifeLink of Georgia, and our mother and father asked me to decide about donation on Billy’s behalf, I knew he would want me to say yes.

Credit: Handout

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Credit: Handout

Billy became a tissue donor that day, and his legacy — which, of course, would live on in our hearts and those of our friends and family — grew to touch the lives of people he had never known and more people than we could ever imagine. Patients who needed tissue transplants to improve their quality of life, to relieve pain, to play with their children and grandchildren, to see beautiful sights, to do good things to help others, but also, all those patient’s families, friends and their communities. Billy’s legacy became a part of so many stories that my family will never know the scope of the impact Billy becoming a donor has made.

On the day we lost Billy, I did not even realize the scope of the impact that Billy’s donation would have on me. After initially feeling a little lost without him, I became inspired to pursue nursing as a career. I became involved with the field of transplantation. Today, I am executive director of LifeLink of Georgia, the same organization that helped me and my family create a legacy for Billy’s generous spirit through donation, leading the team who does for others what was done for Billy, for me and my parents and for all those people whom Billy has helped.

One organ and tissue donor can save eight lives and improve the lives of dozens more directly. Indirectly, there is no way to quantify the legacy of each organ and tissue donor. The impact is limitless. You can visit www.DonateLifeGeorgia.org to learn more about organ donation and how to register.

There are more than 103,000 people on the waiting list for a lifesaving transplant in the United States today, and more than 2,800 of those waiting are Georgians. Hundreds of thousands of patients need tissue transplants each year. “Yes” to organ and tissue donation is “yes” to a legacy of life, “yes” to helping others and potentially “yes” to bringing comfort and direction to your loved ones, the way Billy and donation did for me.

Katie Payne is executive director of LifeLink of Georgia.