Alice Campbell Havre Daily News firstname.lastname@example.org
"It was like hearing from my daughter again," Bev Heitert said after she received a letter from Jocelyn who lives in Washington state in January. The letter came 20 years after Jocelyn received of a section of Heitert's daughter Desiree's tibia after her death in 1989. At the age of 8, she was diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma, a deadly bone cancer. " ... because of your selfless decision to allow (Desiree) to become an organ donor, my life was enhanced in more ways than I will ever be able to show gratitude for," Jocelyn wrote in the letter to the Heitert family. Since receiving the section of bone, Jocelyn has become involved in community activism and education involving cancer and organ donations since she was 15 years old. Through an awareness campaign, she and others worked with a city mayor and then- Gov. Gary Locke to create an official organ donor awareness week. Jocelyn's life has been personally fulfilling as well. "I am also able to play sports and run because of this tibia," she wrote in the letter. For 10 years she was a softball pitcher and completed a half-marathon race in Seattle in the winter of 2008 with the intention of running more. " ... when I finished the race, I cried tears of joy me a cancer survivor with a donor bone, a metal rod to hold the bone in place and nine adjoining metal screws that meticulously connect all these pieces together to make a sturdy bone this leg ran 13.1 miles and didn't stop," she wrote. Heitert said that at first, Desiree's death felt like a waste, "but now it doesn't seem so bad. Something good came out of it." Dagmar Kessler, a donation specialist at Northwest Tissue Services that serves part of Idaho, Washington and Montana, said that the main types of tissues donated are bone, ligaments, tendons, skin and heart valves. Donors can "enhance quality (of life of recipients) or ultimately save (a recipient's) life," Kessler said. Depending on how many tissues are usable from a donor, usually between 50 and 80 recipients' lives are changed for the better, she added. The tissues from donors are proCessed by being quarantined for three months and made into different types of allografts transplantation of tissue from one human to another that can be anything from a tendon itself to a paste made out of bone used for spinal injury treatment, Kessler said. "Bone is probably the most used," she said and added that ligaments used to treat sports injuries tend to be used often as well. "Transplants of long bones or joints have a long-term success rate of about 80 percent. Procedures using smaller pieces of tissue approach 100 percent," an educational brochure from Northwest Tissue Services said. Twenty years ago, when Jocelyn received her section of new bone, transplants were really beginning to take off. "I think that's when everything really started changing," Kessler said. Some examples of largely successful transplants are: " ... heart valves grow with young patients, so that future valve replacement surgeries may be avoided. Orthopedic tissue transplants may prevent amputation and may even speed healing of injuries. Vein grafts restore impaired blood circulation," Kessler wrote in an e-mail explaining tissue donation. Even though organ donation centers usually cannot meet the demand, "if anything, we break even," Kessler said. She added that the difference stems from the percentage of the population that can become organ donors that averages out at less than 1 percent compared to the higher percentage that can become a tissue donor. "Everyone's eligible for something usually," whether that something is cornea, organ or tissue, Kessler said. People can register at local motor vehicle services offices or online, but even if a person has not registered, hospitals are required to report every death to a referral line. That line then determines if the person is eligible for tissue donation through a thorough set of questions that concern the person's medical history. Next, the family is contacted with the request for their loved one to become a donor and are asked over 70 questions that make up the Medical Social History questionnaire to make what Kessler called the "final determination of suitability." Desiree designated herself as a donor before her death at the age of 26. It's "somewhat common" for family and loved ones not to know of a person's decision to become a donor, Kessler said. "We've actually had families dispute it." That's why she stressed the importance of informing relatives and friends of decisions. Heitert did not know of her daughter's decision, but said that when she was called with the notification of it, it didn't even occur to her to disagree. "I have it on my license," Heitert said. "I think we all did it then when we knew (Desiree) did it." Costs of transplant procedures vary greatly based on individual patients, but donors and recipients pay nothing out of pocket, Kessler said. Instead insurance covers the costs. "Tissue donation should not alter the funeral plans of the donor's family, including desires for a viewing," an educational brochure said. Northwest Tissue Services is "very big on restoring the body to as close as it was as possible," Kessler said and added that prosthetics are put into the body so that it is reconstructed and appears normal. Due to the gift donors give to others, "great care and respect are given" to them, Kessler said. Northwest Tissue Services also accepts monetary donations that go into a trust that funds community education and special events such as donor family gatherings, of which two will be held in Montana this fall. Heitert's story of contact with Jocelyn is not common despite annual donor and recipient gatherings. Kessler estimated that only 2 percent of recipients ask to be connected with donor families, and that donor families often request that no contact be made. "It was 20 years down the line, and I was very lucky to find Bev," Kessler said. Right now, she is trying to contact another donor family from a donation that happened 10 years ago and said, "I can't find the family." "It's amazing that this girl thanked me 20 years later," Heitert said. She'd like to strike up a correspondence between herself and Jocelyn and even meet her one day in the future, she added. "I wish I could tell you how thrilled I was" to receive Jocelyn's letter, Heitert said. She added that she's already sent a reply letter even though it took her a while to work through her emotions and figure out what she wanted to say. " ... it's such a waste to go to our graves we don't really leave anything behind," Heitert said of why she supports organ donation. Northern Montana Hospital utilizes LifeCenter Northwest. For more information, visit www. Nwts.org, www.lcnw.org, www.organdonor. gov, or call the Havre office of motor vehicle services at 265-3356.