By Mary-Justine Lanyon
It’s a story no mother wants to tell but Lake Arrowhead resident Linda Tyer feels compelled to share her son’s story to inspire others to become organ donors.
“Our mountain communities are unique,” the OneLegacy ambassador told members of the Mountain Sunrise Rotary Club recently. “We come together to share common goals, joys, sorrows and friendships. Sharing my story opens up a very private part of my guarded heart.”
Tyer’s son, known as Kimo to honor his Pacific Islander heritage, was born on June 21, 1984, and was the victim of a homicide in San Bernardino on Nov. 19, 2017.
“Kimo loved sports, especially baseball,” Tyer said. “He could run like the wind.” Unfortunately, she said, in his adult years he detoured into drugs and shattered his dreams. But, Tyer added, “he was a young man with a golden heart and empathy for those less fortunate.”
When Tyer got the phone call from the police that her son was in the ER on ventilator support, she went to the hospital and learned for the first time about organ transplantation.
“My family’s decision to donate Kimo’s organs is what he would have wanted,” Tyer said.
Once that decision was made, the medical team from OneLegacy, a nonprofit that coordinates organ and tissue donations through Donate Life California, took over her son’s care.
Kimo’s organs, Tyer said, “were translated into magical gifts of life to five others, thanks for the OneLegacy medical staff.
Tyer received a letter from the husband of the woman in her 50s who received Kimo’s liver. “You made it possible,” the man wrote, “for my wife to experience the best Christmas and birthday of all our lives. We will always remember your kind act of generosity.”
Kimo’s lungs made it easier for a man to breathe. His left kidney and pancreas went to a man in his 40s, his right kidney to a woman in her 50s.
And, said Tyer, “his heart of gold is now bringing renewed strength to a man in his 50s.”
“Being a OneLegacy ambassador has filled my grieving heart with joy and peace – knowing that, in the end, his life made a difference.”
Attending the meeting with Tyer was Christy Bethel, the public education and community development specialist for OneLegacy. The nonprofit, she explained, is one of 58 organ procurement organizations.
The oldest cornea donor, she said, was a 107-year-old man. And the oldest organ donor was a man just nine days shy of his 90th birthday.
Bethel urged everyone to take good care of themselves, making sure they are healthy. And she asked everyone to think about that pink dot on their driver’s licenses. “Your family will be asked to make the decision,” she said. “Help them make it.”
Bethel also stressed the importance of donating blood. Some recipients, she said, almost didn’t get their transplants because there was a shortage of blood.
In the United States, Bethel said, there are more than 113,000 people waiting for organ donations.
Donations involve more than organs. Tissue donations, Bethel said can help 75 people.
“I encourage families to talk about donation around Thanksgiving when they are talking about what they are grateful for,” Bethel said.
But only about 50 percent of Californians have said “yes” to organ donation and had that pink dot put on their licenses. The point was driven home when Tyer handed out large pink dots and asked folks who have said “yes” to hold them up – it was about half the room.
A point many were not aware of is that to be an organ donor, the person has to die on a ventilator so that the organs are being oxygenated.
Tyer handed out goodie bags and had something clever to say about each of the contents: Sticky notes – “Don’t leave your family in a sticky situation; let them know your wishes!” Lip balm – “Refresh your lips, then spread the word of your choice to help others.” Pink dot ball – “Let’s squeeze as much as we can out of every precious second of our lives.”
And tagging on to Kimo’s love of baseball, Tyer talked about Mickey Mantle, who received a liver transplant. “You talk about your role models,” she quoted Mantle as saying. “This is your role model. Don’t be like me.”
“Nevertheless,” Tyer said, “in the ninth inning of his life, with two outs and a full count, Mantle hit a personal home run. With humility, humor and no self-pity, he eloquently pleaded with others to take heed of his mistakes.
“Because of his pleas, organ donations increased all across America virtually overnight, giving countless people what Mantle himself did not enjoy – extra innings.
“Let’s play ball and Donate Life!”
For more information on OneLegacy, visit www.OneLegacy.org. And to register as an organ donor, visit www.donateLIFEcalifornia.org.