In the face of loss, there can be new life. Through organ donation, it’s literally possible.
Just ask actor and producer Katherine Heigl, who has firsthand experience witnessing the power that organ donation can have.
When Heigl’s brother, Jason, was 15, he got into a car accident that left him with a severe brain injury despite his health being spared from the neck down.
“Through this difficult and tragic experience, our whole family learned that as human beings, we need to have as much compassion for others as we have for ourselves,” Heigl, a mother of three, explains.
Jason had been a registered organ donor, and Heigl and her family decided to fulfill his wishes after his death. They donated his heart, kidneys, and eyes — allowing five people to continue their lives while Jason’s ended.
The “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Firefly Lane” actress shared a heartfelt post on September 30, 2021, the 35th anniversary of Jason’s death, to commemorate her brother, applaud her parents’ decision, and encourage others to follow suit and become organ donors.
“They donated what they could because they not only knew it was what Jason would have wanted but because they did not want anyone else to suffer what they now would have to if they could prevent it. My mother always says it was not the easy thing to do, but it was the right thing to do,” she wrote.
Addressing a public health crisis
Not everyone on the organ donation list — a number that currently sits in the six-figure arena, and which grows by one person every nine minutes — goes on to receive a life-saving transplant. In fact, the Health Resources & Services Administration notes that 17 people die each day waiting for a transplant.
“Once the person you love is no longer able to continue their life, it is good, honorable, and the right thing to do when you gift someone else, who is dying, with a second chance,” Heigl says.
According to the HRSA, one organ donor can save eight lives and improve at least 75 additional lives. And yet a 2019 report on organ donation, which involved 10,000 U.S. adults, revealed that while 90 percent of adults support organ donation, only 60 percent are registered donors.
Age doesn’t matter — per the HRSA, donors come from a range of ages, from under five to over 65. The website notes a 95-year-old organ donor who, after he died, saved another life.
“All anyone needs to do to be convinced is talk to a family whose loved one is waiting for an organ to survive,” Heigl says.
Encouraging an open dialogue
Heigl urges people to have an open conversation about organ donation with their loved ones. “Make sure the people around you know your feelings on organ donation, so your loved ones can fulfill those wishes without any doubt,” she says.
While the topic may be uncomfortable or awkward, it’s a worthwhile one to have sooner rather than later. Being prepared is crucial, as accidents aren’t predictable. “It’s so hard for people to be thinking about organ donation for the first time when they are amidst an overwhelming tragedy,” Heigl explains. “It’s something that no one ever wants to be faced with, and if you make sure that all who care about you know your own wishes, then you can spare them one more decision during an already very difficult time.”
In her Instagram post, Heigl noted that “death is inevitable” and “tragedies happen.” Organ donation proves death can have tangible meaning. “None of us are in this alone,” she wrote. “At least that’s what Jason taught me.”