VOICES: Honoring the gift of life during Donate Life Month

I often think about the impact the gift of life has had on me and my family over the years, but as Donate Life Month comes to a close, I reflect on how powerful it can be. This month is special to me because nearly all aspects of my life have been touched by organ and tissue donation. I am a grateful recipient of donated nerve tissue and my mother helped save the lives of others by becoming a donor upon her passing. My professional work even focuses on helping make organ and tissue donation possible. I hope through sharing my story I can help spread awareness around why donation is important and can truly help to both improve and save lives.

In 2011, I lost my mother to a massive brain bleed. She was a registered organ and tissue donor. Knowing her wishes, my sister and I did not hesitate– she became the oldest lung donor in the U.S. at the time at the age of 66. It was a difficult time, but I have since found peace in knowing that her legacy lives on through the recipients she has been able to help. Seeing firsthand how my mom’s gift of life positively impacted the lives of so many made her generous gift all the more meaningful. Soon after, I was inspired to pursue a career in organ and tissue and donation.

I joined the Community Tissue Services team as an organ and tissue recovery specialist. Through my work, I help ensure donated organs and tissues make their way to patients in need to both help save and improve their lives – I never expected I would become a recipient myself.

In 2020, while performing a routine procedure at work, my scissors slipped, and caused severe injury to my hand, which included significant nerve damage. As a result, I lost all sensation in my thumb and a large portion of my hand. Even though I worked in the industry and often saw patients with my own injury, actually losing sensation myself was an eye-opening experience.

Having a hand I could not feel was incredibly debilitating both at work and in daily life. I would severely burn myself and have no idea and because I rely on hand dexterity for much of my work, I couldn’t perform my job at full strength. I was fortunate to connect with Premier Health surgeon Dr. Michael Rymer, who used donated nerve tissue (a processed nerve allograft) to repair my damaged nerve. Thanks to the generous gift of a donor, I was able to gain full sensation in my hand and return to work and normal life again.

I know that I am not alone as many others have had their lives touched by the gift of organ and tissue donation. According to Donate Life America, one person choosing donation can help heal the lives of up to 75 patients. Each year, more than 900,000 procedures are performed in the U.S. to repair damaged peripheral nerves and help patients return to the active and fulfilling lifestyle they thought they might never be able to experience again, all thanks to the generosity of nerve tissue donors.

As part of a donor family and a grateful recipient of donated tissue myself, I have found a new purpose in my life and career. I am grateful to work in this field and it is my mission to spread the word of the powerful impact of organ and tissue donation during Donate Life Month and beyond. I encourage everyone to visit donatelife.net to learn more and register to be a donor.

As a donor family member, an organ and tissue recovery specialist and a recipient of donated tissue herself, Kim Hamden is working to raise awareness of the life-changing impact of organ and tissue donation in Dayton and beyond.

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