Donating the gift of life

Published 6:00 am Friday, October 26, 2018

I’ve never taken the step to fill out an organ donor card or a living will. Many of us don’t think about such a thing until the reality hits close to home or affects someone we know.

According to, “At this moment, more than 123,000 people in the U.S. are waiting for an organ. One more person is added to the national waiting list every 12 minutes. Each of these people is in desperate need of a kidney, liver, heart, or other organ. More than 6,500 people a year — about 21 a day — die before that organ ever becomes available. Organ donors are always in short supply. There are far more people in need of a transplant than there are people willing to donate an organ. Most of the organs that are available come from deceased donors. When you fill out an organ donor card with your driver’s license, you’re agreeing to donate all or some of your organs if you die. A smaller number of organs come from healthy people. More than 6,000 transplants from living donors are performed each year.”

Jackie Harber Hensley, a teacher in the Gear Up program in Harlan County Schools, is in end stage kidney failure. She will have to begin dialysis next month, barring a miracle from God. The prognosis is that she will begin dialysis in November. For long-term survival, Jackie’s future depends on the gift of life from a kidney donor. The waiting list is five years for a cadaver kidney once she is officially placed on the transplant list. There is one other possibility of a medical miracle for her.

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After she is placed on dialysis, they will have to have the diseased kidney removed, and dialysis will be what keeps her alive. Removing the kidney will create space for a new kidney, if someone comes forward as a live donor who volunteers to give her the gift of life through the Live Donor Program at the University of Kentucky.

Many will remember her mother, Pauline Hensley Harber, who faced this same life challenge. She has survived with a donor kidney transplant for 35 years. She was the recipient of a kidney from a young man killed in a crash.

If anyone is interested in being tested for a “clinical match” for Jackie Hensley, the University of Kentucky’s number is 859-323-246 and the person to speak with is Jill Marion specifically in Jackie’s behalf.

There are other people in our region who have received organ or tissue donation and survived through the gift of life in the organ donor program. Other organs and tissue that can be donated are: heart, kidney, liver, lungs, pancreas, small bowel, cornea, and skin. KODA (Kentucky Organ Donor Affiliates) is dedicated to saving lives through organ and tissue donation and transplantation. KODA is an independent, nonprofit organ and tissue procurement agency. According to, “Anyone, regardless of age or medical history, can sign up to be a donor. The transplant team will determine at an individual’s time of death whether donation is possible. There are very few conditions that would prevent a person from becoming a donor—such as HIV infection, active cancer, or a systemic infection. You should still consider registering. Even with an illness, you may be able to donate your organs or tissues.”

This same website includes myths and facts that are of concern to many. A couple of these major myths are addressed. There is no limit due to aging. “To date, the oldest donor in the U.S. was age 93. What matters is the health and condition of your organs when you die.” There is also no preference given to the wealthy or famous, as some may believe.

Organ and tissue donation is definitely something to consider, but remains a very private and individual choice.

Reach longtime Enterprise columnist Judith Victoria Hensley at or on Facebook. Check out her blog: One Step Beyond the Door.