Before her passing at age 61 last month, Miriam Aguirre Santos restated and put down in writing her final wish - to have her eyes given to her son.
When he was 5 years old, the Cuban-born Juan Aguirre was struck by a drunken driver while walking on the island where his family owned a house. The crash damaged the cornea in his left eye, leaving his vision permanently blurry. But all that changed earlier this month.
Within days of his mother's death from a heart attack, Mr Aguirre, 39, underwent the first ever mother-son corneal transplant surgery in the history of the Florida Lions Eye Bank.
‘It’s like a whole new world has opened up,’ the 39-year old Aguirre told the Miami Herald. ‘I’m seeing things like I never did before. Everything is very, very colorful.’
Juan's childhood accident that left his cornea severely scarred did not stop him from becoming a successful musician performing under the stage name Diablo Dimes.
Besides her eyes, which she had donated to help her son, Aguirre Santos saved the lives of two other people who received her liver and kidneys.
As for Juan Aguirre, he said that every time he looks at himself in the mirror now, he sees his mother's eyes staring back at him.
'I know that she'll be with me forever,' he told the paper.
Carina Melchior is a 20-year-old Danish woman who was plunged in the middle of controversy by two close encounters with death — the first in a car crash last year that put her in a coma; the second in a hospital, where doctors persuaded her parents to donate her organs and shut off her life support.
But Carina recovered, and she now is at the center of a storm of questions about the criteria for brain death, over-aggressive transplant agencies and the commodification of the human body.
What might have been played out quietly in an obscure Danish civil-law courtroom became a national cause célèbre with the airing early in October of a TV documentary called Pigen Der Ikke Ville Do (The Girl Who Refused to Die) that was viewed by 1.7 million people.
The documentary follows the Melchior family as they learn of the seriousness of Carina’s injuries, are told she cannot recover because her brain is dead, and are asked to donate her organs to people who need them.
Carina’s father, Kim Melchior, asks if there is any chance of “a small miracle anywhere.” None, the medical staff at Aarhus University Hospital reply.
But a few days after being taken off her respirator, while hospital attendants are waiting for her body to shut down, Carina began to move her legs and open her eyes.
The documentary shows her awake and expressing confidence in her ability to recover, get her own apartment, begin work and resume her pastime of horse jumping.
“I will be working as a graphic designer and be able to ride Mathilde properly,” she tells the interviewer.
The hospital administration reacted with a mixture of embarrassment at their mistake and pleasure at the girl’s recovery.
“We are overjoyed that the young woman has survived and that she is moving on after the accident,” said chief medical officer Claus Thomsen.
The hospital has apologized for asking permission of her parents prematurely, while insisting that there was no chance that organ harvesting would have proceeded while the girl was still breathing.
The girl who wouldn't die Incredible story of the 19-year-old who woke up as doctors were preparing to harvest her organs
A teenage girl in a coma after a catastrophic car crash came round just as doctors were about to declare her brain dead. Carina Melchior had had life support withdrawn on the advice of medics and was being prepared for organ donation.
But to the astonishment of staff at the Aarhus Hospital, in Denmark, the 19-year-old suddenly opened her eyes and started moving her legs.
She is now making a good recovery at a rehabilitation centre and is able to walk, talk and even ride her horse Mathilde.
Her family is now suing the hospital for damages, claiming that doctors had been desperate to harvest her body parts. 'Those bandits in white coats gave up too quickly because they wanted an organ donor,' her father Kim told the Danish newspaper Ekstra Bladet.
Ms Melchior, now 20, crashed her car in October last year. She was in hospital for three days before doctors realized her brain activity was fading and consulted her family about stopping treatment. It was at this point they agreed to donate her organs.
Takeaway: Do not give up the possibility of recovery too soon, especially for young patients.
Earlier posts: What you lose when you sign that donor card. Bleeding Heart Cadavers,
How a donor network 'pressured medics to declare patients dead so they could harvest organs. "This kid is dead, You got that?"
New York hospitals are routinely 'harvesting' organs from patients before they're even dead, an explosive lawsuit is claiming. The suit accuses transplant non-profit The New York Organ Donor Network of bullying doctors into declaring patients brain dead when they are still alive.
Plaintiff, Patrick McMahon, 50, reckons one in five patients is showing signs of brain activity when surgeons declare them dead and start hacking out their body parts. 'They're playing God,' McMahon, a former transplant coordinator who claims he was fired just four months into the role for speaking out about the practice, told The New York Post.
The lawsuit, filed in Manhattan Supreme Court yesterday, cites a 19-year-old car crash victim who was was still struggling to breathe and showing signs of brain activity when doctors gave the green light for his organs to be harvested. Network officials including director Michael Goldstein allegedly bullied Nassau University Medical Center staff into declaring the teen dead, stating during a conference call: 'This kid is dead, you got that?'
McMahon, an Air Force Combat veteran, said he believed the 19-year-old could have recovered. 'I have been in Desert Storm, Iraq and Afghanistan in combat,' he said. 'I worked on massive brain injuries, trauma, gunshot wounds, IEDs. I have seen worse cases than this and the victims recover.
He said that the donor network makes 'millions and millions' from selling the organs they obtain to hospitals and to insurance companies for transplants.
'Hearts, lungs, kidneys, joints, bones, skin graphs, intestines, valves, eyes -- it's all big money,' he said.
The Air Force Combat veteran and former nurse added that financially strained hospitals are easily influenced to declare a patient brain dead because they're keen to free up bed space.
The lawsuit cites three other examples of patients who were still clinging to life when doctors gave a 'note' - an official declaration by a hospital that a patient is brain dead, which, as well as consent from next of kin, is required before a transplant can take place.
McMahon has accused the donor network of having a 'quota' system and hiring 'coaches' to teach staff how to be more persuasive in convincing family members to give consent to organ donation.
He said 'counseling' staff are like sales teams who are pressured to meet targets and threatened with the loss of their jobs if they fall short.
'If you don't meet the quotas then you'll get fired - that's a fact. I saw it happen,' he said.
'You're not there for grief counseling, you're there to get organs. It's all about sales -- and that's pretty much a direct quote from the organization. Counsellors are required to get a 30 per cent consent rate from families.' McMahon added that staff members who collect the most organs throughout the year qualify for a Christmas bonus.
This is a total scandal. I urge you to read Bleeding Heart Cadavers
The exam for brain death is simple. A doctor splashes ice water in your ears (to look for shivering in the eyes), pokes your eyes with a cotton swab and checks for any gag reflex, among other rudimentary tests. It takes less time than a standard eye exam. Finally, in what's called the apnea test, the ventilator is disconnected to see if you can breathe unassisted. If not, you are brain dead. (Some or all of the above tests are repeated hours later for confirmation.)
Here's the weird part. If you fail the apnea test, your respirator is reconnected. You will begin to breathe again, your heart pumping blood, keeping the organs fresh. Doctors like to say that, at this point, the "person" has departed the body. You will now be called a BHC, or beating-heart cadaver.
You might also be emitting brainwaves. Most people are surprised to learn that many people who are declared brain dead are never actually tested for higher-brain activity. The 1968 Harvard committee recommended that doctors use electroencephalography (EEG) to make sure the patient has flat brain waves. Today's tests concentrate on the stalk-like brain stem, in charge of basics such as breathing, sleeping and waking. The EEG would alert doctors if the cortex, the thinking part of your brain, is still active.
But various researchers decided that this test was unnecessary, so it was eliminated from the mandatory criteria in 1971.
And how about some anesthetic? Although he doesn't believe the brain dead feel pain, Dr. Truog has used two light anesthetics, high-dose fentanyl and sufentanil, which won't harm organs, to quell high blood pressure or heart rate during harvesting operations. "If it were my family," he said, "I'd request them."
Lawyers for a man who pleaded guilty Thursday in the first ever federal conviction for illegal organ trafficking say he was performing life-saving services for severely ill people.
Levy Izhak Rosenbaum, from New York, admitted in a Trenton federal court to brokering three illegal kidney transplants for desperate New Jersey-based customers in exchange for payments of $120,000 or more. He also pleaded guilty to a conspiracy count for brokering an illegal kidney sale.
The 60-year-old was arrested two years ago following a huge investigation into corruption in New Jersey.
The probe led to 46 arrests, including several rabbis, the New York Daily News reports.
He was nabbed after an FBI informant who was pretending to be a businessman told him he was looking for a new kidney for a sick uncle
Rosenbaum was caught on tape boasting that he had brokered 'quite a lot' of illegal transplants.
He told the informant: 'I am what you call a matchmaker.'
'I bring a guy what I believe, he's suitable for your uncle ... I've never had a failure.'
Prosecutors said he bought the organs from vulnerable people in Israel for as little as $10,000, then sold them here for a minimum of $120,000.
New Jersey's U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman said: 'A black market in human organs is not only a grave threat to public health, it reserves lifesaving treatment for those who can best afford it at the expense of those who cannot. We will not tolerate such an affront to human dignity.'
Under 1984 federal law, it is illegal for anyone to knowingly buy or sell organs for transplant.
In the commencement address Steve Jobs gave in 2005 at Stanford University, he told three stories, the first about connecting the dots, the second about love and loss and the third about death.
“When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: ‘If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right.’ It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.
Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything—all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure—these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.”
His difficulty in getting a liver transplant in California because of the long waiting lists - his transplanted liver came from Tennessee - led Jobs to lobby Maria Shriver over a dinner attended and then the Governor. Steve Jobs' Forgotten Life-Saving Legacy
In October 2010, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law a bill that made California the first state in the nation to create a live donor registry for kidney transplants. The bill also required California drivers to decide whether they want to be organ donors when they renew their driver licenses. According to one supporter, this second measure alone should double the number of organ transplants available in California. Neither of these life-saving changes to California law would ever have happened without the help of Jobs.
Anne Mozingo claims the institute removed her late husband's entire brain - along with its lining, plus his liver, spleen and pituitary gland - without her consent after he died of a brain aneurysm in 2000.
The lawsuit – which claims include infliction of emotional distress, fraud and negligent misrepresentation - accused the defendants of acting ‘beyond all possible bounds of decency.’
The institute denies any wrong doing and says it never knowingly obtained brains without full consent from next of kin.
It says it used a network of ‘brain harvesters’ in Maine and three other states to collect hundreds of brains for use in the study of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
The term 'network of 'brain harvesters' is profoundly creepy.
So, let’s be clear: Mentally ill and disabled people are being euthanized and harvested in Belgium! But rather than an outcry, instead we merely have learned journal articles dispassionately describing the whole thing. To use a metaphor: Jack Kevorkian is euthanizing Hippocrates–and the world yawns. Unless the euthanasia organ harvest is outlawed, it will mark the end of medical morality.
Surgeons retrieving organs for transplant just after a donor’s heart stops beating would no longer have to wait at least two minutes to be sure the heart doesn’t spontaneously start beating again under new rules being considered by the group that coordinates organ allocation in the United States.
The organization is also poised to eliminate what many consider a central bulwark protecting patients in such already controversial cases: an explicit ban on even considering anyone for those donations before doctors and family members have independently decided to stop trying to save them.
Critics, however, say the move heightens the risk that potential donors will be treated more like tissue banks than like sick people deserving every chance to live, or to die peacefully.
“This is another step towards this idea of hovering, hovering, hovering to get more organs,” said Michael A. Grodin, a professor of health law, bioethics and human rights at Boston University. “The bottom line is that they want to do everything they can to increase organ donation.”
You can't even wait 2 minutes for my heart to stop beating before you start harvesting organs?
If this is enacted, I'm going to revoke my organ donation directive.