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Sunday, July 29, 2001



Meeting deals
with donor grief

A conference will help families
of organ donors cope with
the loss of loved ones


By Helen Altonn
haltonn@starbulletin.com

Sandy Pohl knows about grief. She suffered the deaths of her 22-year-old daughter, husband and both parents within five years.

"Grief is such a big issue that people don't address it normally," she said. "They don't even know how to talk to survivors, family members, about death, about what happened."

The Hawaii Donor Family Initiative has planned a conference to help grieving families who have suffered the unexpected loss of loved ones and donated their organs to others.

"Donor families belong to a unique ohana who share the tears and grief of death, often sudden and premature, and have consented to the organ donation," the organization said in announcing the conference.

"Crisis, Grief and Healing: Supporting Donor Mothers," will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Aug. 10 at the Hilton Hawaiian Village.

Speakers will be the Rev. Mitsuo Aoki, University of Hawaii professor emeritus of religion renowned for his pioneering work with death, dying, grieving and healing, and Rear Adm. Kenneth Moritsugu, Hawaii-born U.S. deputy surgeon general, both an organ donor husband and donor father.

Aoki's topic will be "Survival," and Moritsugu will discuss, "The Bill of Rights for Donor Families -- Its Creation and Impact."

Pohl is working on the conference with former state Rep. Brian Yamane and two other organ donor mothers, Beth Maurer and Carol Hagiwara.

They hope to enlist members for a Hawaii Donor Family Council, newly formed through the National Kidney Foundation of Hawaii.

Pohl said the initiative was organized under the ART Calendar Hawaii Database to handle the conference and other programs until the council can take over.

Organ donor families have complicated grief issues and many face post-traumatic stress because of the circumstances of their loved one's death, she said.

Through the conference, she said, "We're going to be helping not just donor families, but a whole cadre of people who are grieving. Going through our lives, we suffer so many losses as a process of living."

Her daughter died after being hit by a car while crossing a street.

"She was my daughter for 22 years and she will be my daughter forever, but people don't want to talk to me about her, not even the good times, let alone when I cry about her," Pohl said. "It's not that I'm uncomfortable. It's that other people are uncomfortable about it."

As part of her grieving process the last five years, she said she has told herself, "My life has been better because these people have lived in my life. I was privileged to be part of their lives. ...They have given me a gift."

The conference is intended to give donor families a chance to network and learn personal coping skills and community resources to assist with grief.

"If I help other people do it, then I am really helping myself in dealing with my own grief and not thinking just of me," Pohl said.

Donor families must go on with their lives, recognizing they have grief issues and "there are people out there willing to help," Pohl said. "The idea is, if you support donor families, they become the very strongest advocate for organ donations because they've been there, they've done it."

Hagiwara said the conference also will be the springboard for the new Hawaii Donor Family Council. She said the council now is the guardian of the Hawaii donor quilt as a result of mediation through the Governor's Office of Volunteer Services.

The quilt, created with patches by donor families, previously was at the Organ Donor Center of Hawaii. Now it is at the Kidney Foundation.

It was turned over to the new council last month, Pohl said. "Castle Medical Center took the leadership in asking for the quilt in behalf of the council."

She said there will be a quilt-pinning at the end of the conference to celebrate what has happened with the initiative, the council and collaboration of organizations to put on the conference.The registration fee of $45 may be sent to the Hawaii Donor Family Initiative, 1519 Nuuanu Ave. No. 2, Honolulu 96817.

For more information, call 585-0430.



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