Donating Our Daughter’s Organs

by JoCarolyn Chambers, LMSW

As a parent, you hope and pray that you will never have to bury your child. However, in August of 2004, JoCarolyn Chambers and her husband found themselves doing the unthinkable: making arrangements for their seventeen-year-old daughter Jenna after a car accident took her life. 

As a parent, there are many things in life that you hope to teach your children; among them are the importance of being kind, integrity, honesty, responsibility to others, and the importance of giving back. As a parent, you also hope and pray that you will never have to bury your child. However, in August of 2004, we found ourselves doing the unthinkable: making arrangements for our beautiful, vivacious, loving seventeen-year-old daughter Jenna after a car accident took her life two weeks before her senior year of high school.

As a minister and a hospice social worker, my husband and I were not unfamiliar with death and dying—it is a very big part of our professional lives. We talked and counseled with people daily, helped them make decisions, and advocated for the desires of their loved ones. While this may have given us an intellectual foundation on which to authorize the donation of Jenna’s organs and tissue, I can assure you it was still beyond excruciatingly difficult. We were fortunate that we had talked with all three of our children about organ donation (part of being in our professions, I guess), and that they truly believed in the beauty and importance of giving to others. There are many who never even attempt to have this discussion with those they love.

Following Jenna’s accident and the days in the hospital, when it became apparent that she would not recover from her injuries, her daddy and I made the decision to uphold her decision that had been made when getting her driver’s license 2 years before—to be an organ donor. She had quipped then in her typical way: “you can’t take them with you”.  Knowing what was important to her regarding organ donation was a gift and gave us peace of mind.

We knew that this was what Jenna wanted—although, to be transparent and truthful, we were not prepared for it despite our professional backgrounds. We were not prepared for the bureaucracy or the endless questions that were asked of us at the time. As understandable as it was that extensive medical history and very personal questions needed to be asked, re-asked, and then asked again, it became a process that was laborious, exhausting, and honestly made us angry. I share this only because, even after all these years and even though the organ donation staff were extremely kind, gracious, and empathetic, it did create a level of additional pain.

Through the years, we have continued to share our Jenna’s story to encourage others to determine what their personal wishes are regarding organ donation and to see the absolute need to have a conversation about this with your loved ones—regardless of age.

It has now been 15 years since we told our princess, our crème-of-the-Oreo, our beloved daughter goodbye, and yet we unequivocally know that there are those whose lives have been blessed because of her. They now see with her beautiful brown eyes and have a new lease on life with her kidneys and other organs she gave as her final gift.

We are grateful beyond measure.

To learn more about organ donation, search our resources page here.

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