Rachel Maske shares her sister’s gift of life story…
My life will never be the same. That was the text I sent to a friend on December 5, 2007, as I sat in the waiting room of the Neuro ICU. Why would my life never be the same? Sometime in the last 24 hours my sister Becky had slipped into a coma and was fighting for her life. I guess maybe my mom made me watch too many Lifetime movies over the years, but the phone call I got just a few hours before that was a call that only people in those Lifetime movies got. The caller said “Your sister has gone into a coma and is in the hospital, you need to get here right away.” I thought “WHAT?!” How could this be possible since I had just talked to her two days ago?
I raced to the hospital without a clue as to where I was going. Thankfully, a cousin of mine lived in the Milwaukee area and gave me directions. As I walked into her room my first thought was how upset she was going to be that they had shaved part of her hair off. She had just got it colored and was complaining about the cost. I stood there in the room taking it all in and it started to sink in that this wasn’t good. She had wires coming out of every part of her body and the beeping from the machines was incessant. I closed my eyes as hard as I could and thought now when I open them this will be all gone because this has to be dream. Sadly, it wasn’t a dream and I spent the rest of the night between her room and the waiting room.
Over the course of the next few days it became obvious that Becky wasn’t going to be coming out of her coma. On Tuesday December 11 she was declared brain dead.
The next morning my parents were approached about the possibility of organ donation. YES! There was no question that my sister wanted to be an organ donor. Because they were never able to determine why my sister was in a coma it took a number of hours to find recipients. In the end there were two gentlemen in Illinois that had hours to live who were brave enough to take the chance on the gift of life from my sister. My sister’s liver and one kidney were going to be the best gift anyone could receive so close to Christmas.
Because of an amazing handmade shawl I received the night my sister became a donor angel, I decided to check out more about the donation team. I attended their volunteer training and that started the most amazing journey I’ve ever been on! I get to meet other donor families, recipients, live donors and so many folks that support organ donation. I’ve been fortunate to volunteer at a wide range of events which have given me so many chances to educate people about organ donation.
Madison was fortunate to hold the Transplant Games in 2010. The games are an Olympic style sporting event that showcases transplant and donation. I took the week off of work to attend and had the most amazing, supportive week I’d had in a long time. The opening ceremonies were spectacular. The donor families were the last to enter the event hall and we were met with such love that the tears came in volumes. Being a child of the 80′s it was pretty awesome to have Larry Hagman there to speak. Mr. Hagman was a liver transplant recipient and continued to be a champion of donation. He had a moment where recipients proudly showed their scars to the rest of the group as a badge of honor.
My grandfather had died earlier in 2007 and while that was such a sad event it was something that was easier to deal with as he was 83 and died of a heart attack. The loss of someone when it’s so unexpected it’s one of the hardest things we can deal with. The last sound I remember during Becky’s hospital stay was the helicopter arriving from Illinois; this meant it was time to disconnect my sister. Seven years later I’m finally able to deal with the sound a helicopter makes, no more panic attacks, thankfully.
Becoming a volunteer was my way of dealing with the awful loss I felt when my sister died. Volunteering has given me the chance to meet some of my closest friends. The other donor families I’ve met have given me such strength. The recipients I’ve met have shown me that while I lost my sister, her gift has given others the chance to live and go on to do amazing things. One of the most rewarding things I’ve been a part of is the board of directors for Donate Life Wisconsin. This has allowed me an even bigger platform. I’m part of the group that works with the DMV centers across the state as they are our front line in signing up new donors. Thanks to all of those DMV staff that work so hard for our cause.
I think of Becky every day and I miss her more than I could have imagined. I’ve had so many great experiences being a volunteer and have met so many people but would give them all up in a heartbeat just to have her back.