The statistics are staggering. According to Donate Life America, there are 114,000 people waiting for the organ transplants that will save their lives. Someone new is added to that list every 10 minutes. Twenty-two die each day.
Devon Beesley, a local father of two, was saved by organ donation. So was adorable one-year-old Titus Sickles. They aren’t alone. Many people in Lewis County are still here thanks to organ donation. They all have different stories but were each saved by the selflessness of others.
Devon’s lifesaving surgery was a miracle multiplied. He desperately needed a kidney transplant and found a suitable living donor in his sister-in-law, Shayna. Unfortunately, she was too small to give her kidney to six-foot-tall Devon.
But there was still hope. In early 2019, Shayna donated her kidney to a stranger in exchange for an appropriately-sized one for Devon. This chain surgery, which took place at the University of Washington Medical Center, was initiated by a “non-directed donor.” According to their website, “A non-directed donor is someone who offers to donate a kidney without a designated recipient, but with the explicit wish to donate to someone in need of a transplant.”
Becoming a non-directed donor is an act of intense selflessness. What would inspire someone to give an organ to a stranger, for no benefit to them or their loved ones? For Bobby McLaughlin of Mukilteo, it was his own medical experience. In 2016, he was in a bike accident. He broke his wrist and needed surgery, which was done with donor tissue.
“That grabbed my attention and kickstarted it all,” Bobby says. “I’ve always wanted to help people.”
He got in touch with a woman who had undergone a kidney transplant and listened to her story. “It was super powerful,” he says. “I was sold. I got ahold of the University of Washington and started the process. I wish I had more kidneys. I would do it again.”
While recovering, Devon and his wife, Paige, found the biggest challenge is maintaining normalcy for their young family. “Life after the transplant is hard,” Devon says, “trying to adapt to a whole new lifestyle and a whole new set of rules. But it’s worth all of the challenges. With two young children, I feel like I can spend more time with them and that I will be physically more capable and healthier than I was on dialysis.”
With the love and support of their family, both Devon and Shayna are recovering well. “She is healing and doing good,” he says. “I’m very grateful for her. Without her donation, my transplant wouldn’t have been possible.”
Devon is appreciative for the stranger’s gift that made sure he could continue to be around for his two young children. “Being a living organ donor is a huge decision,” he says. “Only you can make that decision, but it improved my quality of life and made my family’s life better by doing so. I have not been in contact with the donor yet. I would like to say thank you very much for the selfless act. I am very grateful for him.”
Tiny Titus Sickles is truly a miracle manifested. Born with a severe congenital heart defect, Titus became Seattle Children’s Hospital’s 200th heart transplant at only three months old.
Titus’ gift of life meant someone else had lost their child, a price recognized by Titus’ mother, Rena. She has reached out with Titus’ story, hoping to find the donor family. “I think their wound of losing their child is just too fresh,” she says, “and we can completely understand that. We would love to thank them for their selfless gift that saved our baby’s life.”
The challenges in Titus’ short life have been plenty. Rena says during their many hospital stays, they were in survival mode. “Most seem to assume that the hospital stay or transplant surgery itself were the hardest,” she says. “But the truth is, home life afterward is harder. You have to start processing everything you’ve been through. You really battle with survivor’s guilt, the grief of nearly losing your child and all that they endured, PTSD as certain things trigger awful memories and worry about what the future holds.”
But the reward of Titus’ smiles and development make all the struggles worth it for his family. “He was frail and deteriorating as his heart was failing,” Rena says. “He only had mere days left when his miraculous gift came. We’re thankful every single moment for his second chance at life.”
Life post-transplant for both Devon and Titus means follow-up care and anti-rejection medication for life. With the support of their families and community, they overcame these challenges. But ultimately, it was their donors who gave them a future.
The gift of organ donation not only saves lives, it also improves the quality of life for people like Bobby. Whether that donation comes from a live donor or one who has passed, the act is a phenomenal example of humanity. Its positive effects are impossible to measure.
Rena, Devon and Bobby encourage people to remember those on the waitlist who lose their lives each day. “Many people think putting it on your driver’s license will suffice but in the end, the decision is up to your next of kin,” Rena says. “So make sure your loved ones know your wishes regarding being an organ donor. Organ donors save lives just like Titus.”