DAVID MCKAY WILSON 0000-00-00 00:00:00
One Tragic Death, Many Lives Transformed Gwen and Frank Dalene sat stunned outside the Southampton Hospital emergency room one August morning in 2003, reeling from the death of their son, a promising rock ‘n roll drummer who hadn’t survived a horrific car collision with a tree earlier that day. As they thought of all that could have been, and all that was now so tragically lost, they were approached by a compassionate hospital professional who explained the benefits of donating tissues from the body of their deceased son, Kristofer. Their decision that morning led to the restoration of eyesight to two Long Island residents with debilitating eye disease. It also sparked a public awareness campaign about organ and tissue donation that has spread to several Lions clubs in Suffolk County. “In his 21 years of life, Kris gave the gift of music to those who hear,” says Frank Dalene. “In his death, he gave the gift of sight to two who now see the world through his eyes.” Unlike most American families, the Dalenes had talked about this very issue eight months earlier when they were involved in the care of their 35-year-old niece, who was dying from a rare form of cancer. Their son had been in on the discussion about life and death, and the cold fact that life is a fragile thing that holds no guarantees. Kristofer had told them he wanted to donate his organs and tissues if he were to die. “We knew what to do,” recalls Dalene, president of the East Hampton Lions Club and chief financial officer of Hamptons Luxury Homes. “We gave the go-ahead. A lot of people don’t think of it. But there are so many people waiting for organs and tissues.” Under medical protocols, organs can only be recovered from those who are near death and kept alive on a ventilator. The Dalenes’ son had died before he reached the hospital, so surgeons were prohibited from procuring his organs. His body tissue and bones, though, were still viable. Surgeons took bone, heart valves, veins and eyes from Kristofer’s body. His corneas were still viable too; they were brought to Long Island’s Eye Bank and later transplanted in the eyes of two people with serious eye disease. Six years later, the Dalenes’ donation of Kristofer’s corneas is still reverberating in suburban Long Island. After joining the Lions at the urging of his brother, Roy, the former East Hampton Lions Club president, Frank Dalene in 2006 launched a campaign to spread the word about organ and tissue donation. In collaboration with the New York Organ Donor Network and Southampton Hospital, Lions generated a community discussion about a subject that for too long has been taboo in many circles. This year, Frank Dalene became president of the East Hampton Lions Club, a 30-member group founded in 1949 and the town’s oldest service club. “I realized the need to give back to the community that reached out to me, giving me the strength, comfort and support in my time of needs,” says Dalene, 55, who has been married 34 years to Gwen. “As a result of the decision we made, we found that the giving of the gift of life helped us through the healing process and we also become part of a larger community that we continue to assist.” That community includes one of the anonymous cornea recipients, who later wrote to thank the Dalenes for the gift of sight that came from their son who had died. “I am young and probably have many years before I make something of myself,” he wrote. “I promise you that your generosity will not be wasted. I plan to achieve a lot in this lifetime – hopefully to make accomplishments that will help other people.” Knowing that someone gained from their son’s death softened the blow of the loss of their 21-year-old son, a music prodigy who started playing his father’s vintage Slingerland drum kit when he was eight, and by age 12, was playing in a hard rock band that performed in clubs throughout Long Island. By age 20, the solidly built Dalene, with short-cropped hair and an exuberant playing style, had recorded nine songs with his band that was to be on an album for a major record label. In 2009, Dalene expanded the public-awareness campaign by developing a brochure in collaboration with the New York Organ Donor Network, which paid for its printing. The Lions club then set about distributing 5,000 copies around the Suffolk County town that’s the summer home to some of New York City’s wealthiest – in town offices, law firms, gas stations, retail outlets, and medical facilities. In April, Dalene spoke at an organ-donor awareness event at Southampton Hospital, the place he and his wife found themselves six years ago that fateful morning. Among those in attendance was Robert Chaloner, president and chief executive officer of Southampton Hospital, and at Dalene’s urging, one of the East Hampton Lions Club’s newest members. “A lot of people are waiting for organs, and unfortunately, not enough people have signed up on the donor list,” says Chaloner. “Anything that’s going to get the word out literally saves lives.” Organ donation has come a long way since the first kidney was transplanted 55 years ago. Today, surgeons can transplant lungs, livers, kidneys, hearts, a pancreas and intestines. They can also transplant body tissue – eyes and corneas, heart valves, skin, veins, bone and tendons. There are 164,000 Americans now living with organ transplants, according to the U.S. Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients. Studies show that 90 percent of patients with kidney transplants live at least five years, while 74 percent of those with heart transplants live at least five years. The number of transplants, however, can’t keep up with the demand. There are an estimated 100,000 Americans awaiting transplants, with an estimated 7,500 waiting for transplants in metropolitan New York. The New York region, the nation’s second most populous, includes seven suburban counties plus New York City. In the population of 13 million, there are about 60,000 who die each year. Just 1.5 percent – about 900 – are deemed eligible for donation. In 2008, the Network received consent for donation from 342 families – about one-third of those eligible. And from those, only 251 were medically cleared for donation. However, every donor can have a huge impact because the organs and tissue from one person can serve as many as eight patients. Julia Rivera, Donor Network’s communications director, says the East Hampton campaign has caught on with other Lions clubs on Long Island, with the Bridgehampton and the Montauk Lions Clubs also mounting public awareness initiatives. “The Lions have become our ambassadors in educating the community,” says Rivera. “We see them as incredible role models. People need to know that anybody can be a donor, but the reality is that the number of suitable donors is quite small.” The campaign lets people know that most religions either support organ donation or support individuals to make their own decision on the issue. Age is also not a detriment. Rivera said a 92-year-old New Yorker recently donated his liver and kidney. “You should never rule yourself out,” she says. “Only a doctor can tell if you are suitable for donation.” In New York, potential donors can make that decision on their own by enrolling with the New York State Donate Life Registry, a secure and confidential data base maintained by the state Department of Health. The registry is only accessed at or near the time of death by the Donor Network and tissue and eye banks in the state. The registry grants individuals the right to self-determination and allows one to have control of his or her life. No one, including one’s spouse, can reverse an individual’s decision to donate their organs, tissues or eyes. Among those who have signed up is Southampton Hospital CEO Chaloner, who has been inspired by Frank Dalene’s activism. “He’s a very persuasive guy,” says Chaloner. “His story is so compelling.”
Published by International Association of Lions Clubs . View All Articles.
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