An organ recipient's gain lessens a widower's loss
HILO » Patrick Pajo, 46, of Hilo takes comfort in knowing that after the death of his wife Sept. 18, her organs enabled other patients to live.
"It felt good that she continues to help others," Pajo said. "That's what brings me up."
Pajo's wife, Leslie, died at Straub Clinic & Hospital, but he joined ceremonies at Hilo Medical Center to support organ donation at medium-sized hospitals, especially on the neighbor islands.
The Honolulu-based Organ Donor Center of Hawaii presented an award to the Hilo hospital yesterday for obtaining the organs of both of the patients last year who were eligible to make the donation when they died.
Donor Center hospital services manager Albert Newmann said two donors is a significant number even though it seems small.
Each donor can contribute a heart, liver, pancreas and two kidneys, he said. Lung donations occur elsewhere but are not done in Hawaii, he said.
If each potential donor statewide became an actual donor, another 50 to 60 lives per year could be saved, he said.
The number of potential donors is quite small, maybe 50 per year statewide, said Donor Center staffer Katharine Kickertz. Only patients who suffer the death of their brain stem are eligible.
When the brain stem dies, ventilators can keep the body alive. That's when the family has to make a decision about donation.
Newmann said decision timing is more critical in organ donation than for tissue donation, for eye tissue as an example.
For Pajo, an instructor at Hawaii Community College, the decision was not difficult. His wife had been on a ventilator for three days. But he wanted to be sure his two daughters, 14 and 16, also agreed with the decision. "I let my kids be a big part of it," he said.
Pajo read a letter addressed to "Dear donor family" from a woman whose husband received his wife's liver.
The letter said the husband described himself as a "shell of his former self" before the transplant. He doesn't remember anything from the two months before the operation.
Now the family has a "new and improved dad," the letter said.
The woman also said she met the patient who received Pajo's wife's heart. Pajo said he felt grateful knowing that.