Organ, tissue donation helps soothe a deep hurt

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comJanuary 19, 2012 

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This is not an easy subject for Kay Wolf to talk about, but she does because it's important.

In April, Kay and Jim Wolf of Hilton Head Island lost their son in the blink of an eye. Sean Wolf was only 34 when he died of pulmonary embolism. He left behind a wife and two small children in Indianapolis.

On Tuesday, Kay will speak about an unexpected legacy of her son. Sean had chosen to be an organ and tissue donor, which Kay did not know until after his death. Others should hear what she has seen unfold as a result of her son's decision.

She will speak at 5 p.m. in the library at First Presbyterian Church on Hilton Head. Islander Linda Hay also will share her experience as the wife of an organ recipient. And a pastor will discuss the religious aspect of organ donation.

Kay has seen a number of myths about organ donation fall by the wayside.

"There's a misconception that you can't have an open-casket funeral, but you can," she said. "There are misconceptions that you can't give if you are sick or elderly or really young, but you can."

As a former emergency room worker, she says there's no truth to the myth that medical professionals don't work as hard to save the lives of organ donors.

But myth-busting is not the whole story. Kay has been more surprised to find unexpected truths.

Because of the way Sean died, they couldn't use his heart, lungs, kidney or liver -- the things commonly associated with organ transplants.

Still, his tissue donations have helped 68 people, and that number could eventually climb to 100.

"He was a big guy, but his veins have been used to save tiny babies with heart problems," Kay said. "His skin has helped some badly burned people. His bone marrow has been frozen and will continue to help save lives. It's amazing what they can do. It's simply amazing."

In South Carolina, it's important that organ donors have registered or renewed their registration since January 2009. At that time, the South Carolina Organ and Tissue Donor Registry switched to a "first-person consent registry," meaning the donor, not the survivors, decides on organ and tissue donation. It also put the information into a secure database that the procurement organization accesses to see if someone is registered to be a donor.

To register or update registry information, go to www.DonateLifeSC.org or stop by a Department of Motor Vehicles office.

Kay said she's quite proud of her son.

"You think about why it happened," she said of the hurt that still makes her cry. "You think maybe it's because 68 people will have a better life."

Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.

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