When filling out paperwork for the Department of Motor Vehicles, some check a little square box without knowing what that check entails. Others don’t check the box at all, having no idea what is being thrown away. Checking that box identifies one as an organ donor, someone who saves lives after his or her’s ends.
Every year, Cal State Fullerton hosts OneLegacy’s “Donate Life Run/Walk,” an event used to raise organ donation awareness; yet, CSUF’s affiliation with OneLegacy and the Donate Life Organization goes beyond this one event.
OneLegacy is a nonprofit organization dedicated to saving the lives of individuals in need of organ and tissue donations. They have 11 transplant centers and serve 215 hospitals in the greater Los Angeles area.
The event’s founders, Craig and Kathleen Hostert, are both Cal State Fullerton alumni.
Craig has been an organ recipient on two different occasions. Kathleen gave him one of her kidneys back in 1998. Fourteen years later, Craig’s son, Justin, also gave his father a kidney.
According to Donate Life California, “more than 123,000 Americans are currently waiting for an organ transplant, nearly 22,000 live in California and an average of 22 patients die every day while waiting, simply because the organ was not donated in time.”
Austin Nicely was an ROTC and criminal justice student at CSUF. In October 2014, he was in a motorcycle accident.
Austin Nicely’s accident occurred early Friday morning on Oct. 31, but it wasn’t until late Saturday night, Nov. 1, that he was officially pronounced dead. As a registered organ donor, after passing away, he was determined eligible for organ donation.
The hospital contacted OneLegacy an hour before he was pronounced dead. A OneLegacy representative came up to his family and asked for their blessing to donate his organs.
“They didn’t actually need (to do) that. If you are a registered organ donor, they use the organs no matter what,” said Simone Nicely, Austin Nicely’s sister. “The OneLegacy representative was very kind and understanding.”
Simone Nicely knew her brother was an organ donor before being approached by the OneLegacy representative.
“I distinctly remember him saying that if he wasn’t using his body, someone else should. It was just a random conversation we were having that ended up being really important,” Simone Nicely said.
Even after being pronounced dead, tests still had to be run on Austin Nicely to ensure his organs were viable for transplant.
“Even though there are millions of people on the registry, it doesn’t mean that all of them will be able to become organ donors. It really depends on how they die,” said Kari Kozuki, OneLegacy‘s donor family event coordinator.
According to OrganDonor.gov, “most donors are victims of severe head trauma, a brain aneurysm or stroke,” which leaves most of the vital organs viable. However, even if the organs are viable, the families of the deceased must sign off in order for the organs to be used, which could be a difficult decision.
“We try and work with that family to help them understand that we are asking them to honor the decision that their loved one has already made,” Kozuki said.
Most people inform their family members they are donors, this way if something happened to that person, his or her decision could be supported, according to OrganDonor.gov. However, making that decision is never easy.
“OneLegacy really does so much for the families of donors,” said Nicole Heimerl, Austin Nicely’s mother. She said that families receive a newsletter about every three months that contains information about grief and grief therapy.
Gary Foxen, who died in November 2014, was an Air Force veteran and a liaison between the CSUF ROTC program and OneLegacy. He took on that role when he became a lung recipient.
Lois Foxen, Gary Foxen’s wife, said Gary Foxen had his lungs for 15 and a half years, which gave him time to do all his final life goals.
These goals included being named “Father of the Float” for his efforts toward getting a OneLegacy float in the Rose Bowl Parade; he started the Color Guard Program that takes place in the Circle of Life Garden during the Run/Walk event and he started the “Fallen Soldier Donor Memorial,” which is dedicated to honoring soldiers that were also donors.
Not everyone is as positive as the Foxens when it comes to organ donation. Some people are hesitant to register as donors. A common myth is that if someone donates his or her organs, then the “hospital staff won’t work as hard to save (his or her) life,” according to the Mayo Clinic.
“We have to explain to people that when there is a traffic accident and the paramedic is responding, they’re not checking the website to see if they are a donor,” Kozuki said.
Paramedics provide whatever care possible to save a person’s life, because that is their job, Kozuki said.
A person who makes organ or tissue donations can save up to eight lives and enhance up to 50, according to the OneLegacy website.
Austin Nicely’s organs helped four people. His heart recipient had waited three-and-a-half months before receiving any news.
“I count my blessings every day. I am so grateful that Austin and his family were so generous with the gift of life,” the recipient said in an anonymous letter to Heimerl.