Whitesburg KY

Staying alive

Lenore Skenazy

Lenore Skenazy

Tony D’Acquisto was a graphic artist trying to break into jewelry design. When that didn’t work out, he kept making jewelry, except instead of selling it, he gave it away. If he saw that a waitress was having a bad day, he’d go back the next day with a pair of earrings.

Then, one Minnesota afternoon, the young man himself was having a bad day. Achy, nauseous. When he got up the next morning, he collapsed. His wife, Rose, called an ambulance, and at the hospital, the doctors said it was a brain tumor.

The five-hour operation went well, but that night, as Rose sat by his bed, a nurse came in and said, “Tony, squeeze my hand.”

No squeeze.

By morning, the nurse was asking gently but urgently, “Rose, did you ever have a conversation with Tony about organ donation?”

Whoa. No, she didn’t think so. “But then,” says Rose, “I remembered just this once, a small conversation that I really hadn’t paid much attention to, he’d said that the next time he renewed his license, he wanted to make sure he was an organ donor.” She told the nurse.

And that is how Tony is still with us — in a way — today.

There aren’t a lot of things you can do when you’re dead. You can’t eat. You can’t laugh. You can’t tell your wife how much you love her. But you can save a life or two or, in Tony’s case, three: heart and kidney to one man, another kidney to another and liver to a third (who, Rose later learned, would have died the next day without Tony’s donation).

But that morning, Rose didn’t know any of that was going to happen. “As I left the hospital, I remember standing out in the parking lot and just thought, ‘I’m a widow!’ But what I didn’t hardly realize at the time is that the organ donor piece of that experience let me hold in a little piece of hope in my hand that grew bigger and bigger in my life.”

That was back in 1994. She was 34. Tony is forever 35. These days, that little piece of hope keeps growing for Rose, thanks to the volunteer work she does with organ donation organizations, speaking about how it feels to give the gift of more time on earth. Studies have found that about 75 percent of Americans are willing to be “deceased donors,” but most of us just never get around to signing our driver’s licenses or even having a conversation about it. It slips our mind, and then it’s too late.

Too late, too, for the 18 people who die each day waiting for an organ, leaving more stunned loved ones holding lifeless hands in the ICU.

Just by having that one conversation with her husband, Rose knew his wishes. That’s enough, legally, to allow a donation to proceed. That’s the message Rose wants to get out.

Nothing can bring back Tony. But when Rose finally got to meet the man who’d received his liver — a Midwestern grandpa — she asked him, “Do you ever get cravings for garlic?” And the man said, “Well, I’ve always loved Italian food.” But then he thought about it a second more and said, “But it’s kind of funny; I do get chocolate cravings now. The other day, I brought chocolate doughnuts to work, and my son said, ‘You? Chocolate?’”

And that made Rose laugh. Tony loved chocolate. And life. And giving beautiful things to people. And, strange as it may seem, he still does.

For more information on how to become an organ donor, contact the National Kidney Foundation (www.kidney.org, 800- 622-9010) or Donate Life America (donatelife.net, 800-355- 7427).

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