by Jim Taylor
Special to the Times-Courier
Every 10 minutes a new name is added to the national organ transplant waiting list, according to Donate Life America. Unfortunately, each day an average of 18 people die from the lack of available organs for transplant. Those statistics were hard to accept for Ellijay’s Jodie Parker. She decided she needed to do her part to help, and on Sept. 4, as an altruistic living kidney donor, she gave the gift of life to a complete stranger.
“When Jodie approached me about becoming an organ donor, I initially shrugged it off,” said Jodie’s husband of 32 years, Dan Parker. “But I should have known better. My wife has always been a giving, gracious, southern lady who goes out of her way to care for other people. I was worried about the risks, but I knew she had her mind set on it and I supported her through the entire process.”
When it came to organ donation, Jodie started by educating herself on the process. She was concerned about the lack of organ donors despite the relative abundance of modern transplant services. Finally, she reached out to Emory Medical Center, where she underwent extensive psychological and physical testing before being approved as a donor candidate.
While Jodie’s gift of life has certainly caught the attention of their friends and family, many may not realize the Parkers’ good deeds are already known by strangers around the world. Over the years the couple has had the opportunity to travel to some rather remote areas and they always make a point of packing at least one extra suitcase full of supplies that Jodie arranges to donate locally. Many times their travels have taken them to orphanages — a particular passion of Jodie’s — in India, Africa and South America.
On one trip, not long after Jodie’s decision to become a donor, the Parkers found themselves meeting with a village elder in a remote area in the Amazon. Through a translator, the elder explained that he had been to a nearby city, where he heard on the radio that in America there are people who live with the organs of others to sustain them. Curious about this seemingly impossible wonder, Jodie explained that it was true — organ transplantation saves lives every day.
But even back home in the United States, where modern transplant medicine has made the seemingly miraculous a commonplace occurrence, altruistic donors like Jodie are rare. With no ties to a family member or friend in need, they offer to give a part of themselves so that another person may live, asking for nothing in return. The wait for Jodie took several years as Emory physicians considered very carefully how to maximize her precious gift. An ideal situation unfolded with a domino transplant chain.
Jodie was able to initiate a domino transplant chain, which is composed of unmatched donor pairs. These pairs include a donor who wants to give but is not a match for his or her chosen recipient. Jodie’s kidney was shipped to Denver, where her recipient’s donor likewise donated a kidney to someone with an unmatched donor. As long as each subsequent recipient has a donor willing and able to continue the chain on his or her behalf, domino chains can theoretically continue forever.
While she may never know her recipient, Jodie believes she has gained something from the experience. While her gift will provide the precious gift of time to someone else’s family, the Parkers’ two sons, stepdaughter and five grandchildren are extremely proud of their parents and the experience has helped them all better appreciate what they have.
“When you’ve had a good life, you should do what you can to give back to others,” says Dan. “We have been extremely fortunate to be able to do that in both our personal lives and with our business. I could not be more proud of my wife.”
“I don’t feel like I’ve done something huge,” says Jodie, who is a very reluctant hero. “But I would encourage others to consider the process of living donation. The procedure itself is not that difficult and the physicians at Emory really take their time to explain everything. You can even pledge to become an organ donor now via online resources or when you renew your driver’s license.”
For more information on organ donation, or to register to become an organ donor, visit donatelifegeorgia.org.