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Organ Donation

The Huggy Bear and His Hero’s Hart

I had the chance to meet Larry Levinson when he was recently celebrated by many chapters of the Washington state GWTA.  I was struck by how he has been able to turn his life around since receiving a donor heart transplant and asked Larry to share his story with the Sound RIDER! readers.  It's important to understand that just because you checked off organ donation on your license doesn't mean any of your body parts are going anywhere unless you've met some other criteria.  Unfortunately, the current billboard campaign does not lay out the particulars, but this article serves that purpose. I'm thankful to Larry for sharing his story and the facts about Organ Donation.  Read on....

Tom Mehren/Publisher

above:  Larry receives recognition along with his new family, The Kime's.

My real name is Larry Levinson. I’m 62 years old, disabled/retired for the past eight or so years.  After a six-year wait, for the last seven-and-a-half months I've been hospitalized at the University of Washington Medical Center.  On March 2, 2001, I was finally given a heart transplant.

How did my donor, Kris Kime, wind up donating his heart? Kris heroically moved in on a bunch of thugs who were beating on a girl, there to enjoy the Mardi Gras party in downtown Seattle. Kris most likely saved her life but lost his in the process.  At least one of the thugs is now standing trial.

Just how did I wind up needing a heart?  Simple:  I killed mine.  All it took was a lifetime of fighting the world and everyone in it, working 10 - 24 hours a day, rarely taking a real vacation, rarely exercising, and rarely eating proper or the right amounts of food.

What could I have done differently?  The simple answer is to avoid doing the things that killed my heart…  Sounds so logical and simple:  Just do it!  Unfortunately, the real world doesn’t work that way for most people.  While waiting the years for a heart and several months in the hospital, I had plenty of time to think about my life --  the good and the bad.  I began to realize the issue was attitude.  There are so many cute phrases that people offer to help out:  Let go and let God, stop and smell the roses,  let it go like water off a duck’s back, etc.  None of  them worked for me.  When I was diagnosed with heart disease, I worked hard at calming my life down, which paid off in that I lived long enough to receive Kris’ heart.  Then a couple of months ago, someone forwarded me a story.  For some unknown reason, I opened the attachment (I still don’t know why).  The attachment was a story about a professor illustrating the concept of a successful life.  As near as I can recall, the story goes something like this…

On day, a professor of (?) came into the classroom with two jars and three boxes.  He  announced he was going to conduct a lesson in physics.  "You see before you two jars and three boxes.  In the boxes are three different sized rocks: One has fist-sized rocks, another has pebbles about the size of your thumb, the last is filled with sand.”  He  proceeded to place three fist size rocks into the jar.  He asked if the jar was full.  The students replied that it was indeed full.  He  added several pebbles to the jar and again asked if it was full. It was. He adds a little more than a handful of sand to the jar shaking it around to get the jar completely full of sand, pebbles and rocks.  Again he asked if it was full.  It was.  Some of  the students had begun to realize the rocks and pebbles were very smooth and brightly polished.

He  took the second jar and announced he would fill this jar in reverse order.  Since the last thing in the other jar was sand, he filled the jar with it.  He asked and was answered that the jar was full.   He  reached for some of the bright pebbles but none would fit into the jar:  There was simply no room.  He tried the rocks with the same result.

He  announced to the class, "The jars represent your life.  The contents tell a great deal about the intelligence of your life.  The rocks represent those central and basic values in life such as your soul, family, perhaps an avocation or vocation.  The pebbles represent things like your house, car, job, etc.  The sand represents all of the trials and tribulations of life.  Being late to work, someone else being late, traffic jams, being cheated legally, your hair falling out or your chest working its way toward your stomach, etc.

He  asked the class which jar was the closest to describing their current lives.  He then asked which jar they would like to represent their lives.  He told them that only they could add rocks, pebbles or sand to the jar.  Therefore, your life is exactly what you fill it with as time passes.

By the way, I have no idea who wrote the story but I would really like to know.  Keep in mind this version is as my memory allows.  I assure you it is not accurate but I hope the author’s point got through.  Remember, some sand will always be in your life.  It's the sand that helps create the beautiful and smooth luster, the highlights of your life.  But if all you have is sand, you have no life at all.  Remember, sand can knock you down but can also easily be brushed off.  One last tip:  How long you live is important but how well you live is far more important.

About donating an organ:

  • A notice on your diver’s license is good but your families knowledge and acceptance of your wish to donate (or not donate) really counts.  If there is some conflict among your family about your wishes, write your wishes in a will and be sure your executor agrees with your wishes.  If your loved one qualifies as a potential donor, a highly trained team from Life Center Northwest will be there to help you through this part of your tragedy.  They will NOT pressure you to OK a donation.  That is not their job.  Their job is to help the family make the decision whatever it might be.  They can be relied upon to give advice and answer your questions honestly and factually.

  • The idea that a doctor or medical facility would deliberately shorten your life to acquire your organs may make good novels and movies, but does not exist in the real world.

  • There is no age limit on organ donation.  Only the medical experts can determine the viability of your organs.

  • About lists.  I was constantly asked where I was on the "LIST.”  For much of my waiting time, I was at the top of my "LIST.”  But what makes a list?  Primarily tissue type (several) and size (body mass should be equal between the donor and recipient).   Imagine, if you will, the heart of a five-foot, one-hundred pound donor trying to supply the blood needed by a six-foot, two-hundred pound recipient.  (It doesn’t work.)  Finally, if tissue and size match, the organ will go to the person most in need, regardless of waiting time.  

  • About appreciation and donor/recipient contact.  I had no idea how much I would appreciate this new heart and the family with the courage to allow the donation.  Fortunately (or unfortunately), you come back from the door of death essentially the same person for good or bad.   It is a prime time to make major changes in your life and your values.  At least it has been for me.  If you are a relative of a donor or recipient, know that LifeCenter Northwest has some top people and excellent programs.  Follow their advice.

 

Love Ya All

The Huggy Bear

Larry Levinson


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