"What is the value of a person, after he has passed away?"
That was a question that was posed to me recently by Jack's brother. We had been talking about Tenafly Guy, and the things my staff and I hoped to communicate to Jack's fans among the pages of our site. It was an excellent question, and it had me thinking: what is the value of a person after they are gone? And in this particular case, what is the value of Jack's life, long after he's passed from earth? What is Jon-Erik Hexum's legacy? What is his greatest gift? What lessons did he leave for us, things we can learn from the way he lived his life?
His answer was exceptional. We should remember Jack for three distinct things: his discipline, his disposition, and his greatest gift of all, the gift of life through his most selfless act ever, the donation of his organs after he passed away.
Reviewing Jack's life, it's easy to see the discipline he had, especially in regards to his career. And his disposition was that of a wonderful, kind man, one with a heart of gold, who genuinely loved people. Tenafly Guy hopes that we are able to convey those important facets of his life to you through the pages of our site, and that after you leave, you have a clear picture of the kind of person Jack was. That leaves just one last very important thing to impart to Jack's fans, his greatest gift of all, his organ donation.
His brother kindly asked if we would consider designating a page on our site to organ donation, and I immediately agreed. What an absolutely fabulous way to remember Jon-Erik Hexum.
As we all know, Jack was taken from this earth far too soon, long before he could reach his full potential: as an actor, as a man, and in his life in general. The Hexum family, in the midst of their unimaginable grief, made the decision to allow Jack to give the gift of life to others in need, while his life was quickly slipping away. His brother talks in depth about their experience in the West 57th Interview that was recorded not long after Jack passed away:
Currently in the US, over 101,000 people await organ transplant. Thousands of those potential recipients will die waiting. That means that on an average day, 16 people will die while waiting for a donor organ. One donor can save up to 8 lives, the same person, through tissue donation, can greatly enhance up to 70 lives.
Last year alone, organ donors made up more than 28,000 transplants possible. Another 1 million received cornea and tissue transplants that helped them recover from trauma, bone damage, spinal injuries, burns, hearing impairment and vision loss.
Most people, when referring to Jack's organ donation, talk about his heart going to Mr. Washington. But do you know how many other people he helped with his selfless donation? Read the letter the Northern California Transplant Bank sent to Jack's mother Gretha, to tell her how many people he saved:
That's pretty impressive! Unfortunately, thousands die every year waiting for a donor organ that never comes. You have the power to change that.
Organ and tissue donation and transplantation provide a second chance at life for thousands of people each year. You have the opportunity to be one of the individuals who make these miracles happen.
By deciding to be a donor, you give the gift of hope...hope for the thousands of individuals awaiting organ transplants and hope for the millions of individuals whose lives could be enhanced through tissue transplants.
Fact: Anyone, regardless of age or medical history, can sign up to be a donor. The transplant team will determine at an individual's time of death whether donation is possible.
Fact: Most major religions in the United States support organ donation and consider donation as the final act of love and generosity toward others.
Fact: If you are sick or injured and admitted to a hospital, the number one priority is to save your life.
Fact: When matching donor organs to recipients, the computerized matching system considers issues such as the severity of illness, blood type, time spent waiting, other important medical information, and geographic location. The recipient's financial or celebrity status or race does not figure in.Fact: An open casket funeral is usually possible for organ, eye, and tissue donors. Through the entire donation process, the body is treated with care, respect, and dignity.
Fact: There is no cost to donors or their families for organ or tissue donation.
Fact: Every state provides access to a donor registry where its residents can indicate their donation decision.
Fact: Federal law prohibits buying and selling organs in the U.S. Violators are punishable by prison sentences and fines.
Fact: People can recover from comas, but not brain death. Coma and brain death are not the same. Brain death is final.
It's not difficult at all. You can sign up one of two ways: When you go to the DMV to renew your driver's license, tell them to enter your name on the registry. You can also go to US Government Organ Donor Page they have a link there to register in your state to be a donor.
I did it, and it was simple, I did it in a matter of about 5 minutes. Piece of cake, totally. What was really cool was that they asked if I wanted to sign up in honor of someone, it felt good to be able to put in the box, "Jon-Erik Hexum."
After you register, make sure your wishes are known. Put it on your driver's license. Talk to your family about it: tell your spouse, your kids, anyone who could be making final decisions for you if you are in a situation where you incapable to do so yourself. Tell your doctor, your minister/faith leader, and your friends. And be sure to include your donation in your advance directives, will and living will.
For more information on the subject, we have tons of links for you:
The Mayo Clinic Organ Donor Page dispels the myths that surround organ donation. Don't let misinformation keep you from saving lives.
The US Dept. of Health and Human Resources Tells you all about how you can donate the gift of life to someone in need. They also have documentary films and tools for introducing the concept of organ donation in schools, your workplace, etc. And various ways you can help.
Since I'm in Reno, I went through the Nevada Donor Network, Inc., and they have a great FAQ page that explains everything in greater detail. They have some amazing life saving stories that will touch your heart and inspire you to help give the gift of life to those in need. They also have a great Links page to learn about things like tissue donation, living donations, and even support groups for families who have lost loved ones to suicide or murder.
Now, we've given you the reasons you should become a donor, the links to find out more information, and instructions on how to become a donor. What are you waiting for? Go to it!
You knew I had to put my own personal stamp on this page too, didn't you? I wanted to give you another side to the organ donation story. Many of you know that I'm a cancer nurse, and in the 19 years I've been working with cancer patients, I have come in contact with some really amazing people, ones that have inspired ME, instead of the other way around. Yes, there are times my job is very sad, but there are also times when my job is a joy, when we can put someone into remission. Over the years they have thanked us in various ways: through home baked goodies, lunches brought into the office for us to enjoy, flowers, gifts, thank you cards and letters, you name it, we've likely gotten it. But there was one gift in particular that really touched my heart and has stayed with me all these years.
This patient wrote us a letter on her 10th anniversary of being declared cancer free. She was thanking us for saving her life, but it was the way she said it that was most memorable. She wrote, "Because of you and all you've done, you've given me so much to appreciate. One more sunset. One more candlelight dinner with my husband. One more vacation with loved ones, one more dance under the stars, one more hug from my grandchildren, and the chance to listen to them laugh, to love, to just enjoy being alive. Thank you."
What an absolutely amazing letter, and it really made me stop and think of the lives we've saved, all the opportunities we've given our patients, to have "one more" something with the ones they love the most.
And that's what you give when you sign up to be an organ donor. Think of the ultimate gift Jack gave Mr. Washington and the others that benefited from his donation. All the "one mores" he gave them in life. Could there be any greater gift?
But the organ donation touches my life in a completely different way, one that you would not expect. I'm going to share a personal piece of my life, in the hopes that, if you've gotten this far and still haven't decided to donate, well, maybe you will after you read what my family endured.
On February 10, 2008, I lost my big brother after a long battle with alcoholism. You should've seen Bill when he was healthy. He was only about a month older than Jack. He stood 6'3", and he was built like a mountain. Strong, sturdy, and fearless, yet he was also sweet, gentle and kind. As a little girl, he was my protector, my dragon slayer, my prince. Whenever I needed him, day or night, he was just a phone call away, ready to jump on his white stallion, ride in and save me from whatever troubled me, whether it was something easily fixed like a flat tire, or something more complicated like a man that had broken my heart. Whatever it was, he always made it better.
A few years before his death, we went on a family trip to Disneyland, and Bill went with us. For a full week, Bill, my sister Robin and I ran all around Disneyland park and Los Angeles: riding roller coasters, eating corn dogs and every kind of disgusting junk food you can imagine, racing cars, and just acting like kids again, something we hadn't done since we were children. It was one of the best trips of my life, a memory I will never forget.
This is a pic of Bill and me at my wedding, July 26, 1991. --->
When Bill landed in the hospital for the last time, he was suffering from multiple organ failure from the many years of alcohol abuse he struggled with. His kidneys were shutting down, as was his liver, and his skin was a pretty deep shade of yellow near the end. We inquired about organ donation. We thought that just maybe, if we could get him a new liver and kidneys, well, he'd have a second chance at life, a brand new start. But it wasn't meant to be. Not only was he ineligible for donor organs because of his alcoholism, but because his body had been abused for so long, it wouldn't be able to support the donated organs once they were transplanted. We were devastated, and we wound up losing a man who had great potential in life, but who was lost because his demons got the better of him.
I would give anything now to have "one more" with my big brother: one more ride on the back of his Harley. One more laugh over a raunchy joke (he had the same sick sense of humor I have) and one more chance to get on Space Mountain, raise our arms above us and scream our heads off like little kids again. In fact, that was one of Bill's last wishes. I was taking care of him in the ICU, and he laid his hand on my arm and said, "Hey kid, will you take me to Disneyland again?" I said, "Honey, if you beat this, I'll pay for the whole trip." And I would've too. I'd give anything now just to have "one more" with my prince. He wanted to fight his disease, wanted a second chance at life, to live many more years, but his body had just had enough abuse, and we lost him. And I'll never be the same again.
Which takes you back to the original question: how many people are waiting for an organ? How many more people will have to die because there are no organs available? Because good, healthy people can't or won't donate to those in need? How many families have lost a loved one, because no organ could be found, or, in our case, were completely ineligible for an organ to begin with? And how many families are hurting now, after losing a family member, and wishing/praying for that chance to have just "one more" with the one they love?
You can make a difference. Follow Jack's and the Hexum family's example, and register to be an organ donor. And give someone else the chance that I never got, to have that "one more." Mr. Washington and all the other recipients were given many more "one mores" with their loved ones. Make sure someone else gets that chance. Sign up. Do it in Jack's name. Do it for the Hexum family that donated selflessly in the midst of their grief. Do it for those that are waiting for an organ. Do it for those that pass away without that organ, or like in our case, for the families that are hurting because their loved one wasn't even eligible for a donation. Hell, I don't care if you do it for your dog that sleeps at your feet every night, or the Barista at Starbucks that makes you the perfect cappuccino. It doesn't matter why you do it. Just do it. Give the gift of life, the gift of "one more."