April is Organ Donor Awareness month. How much do we really understand about donating organs and how one organ donor can affect so many lives?
I am going to help you understand as well as share two fisherman’s stories on how an organ transplanted changed their own lives. Do we ever really think about it until it becomes our family, our friends, or us? One single organ donor can save 8 lives. Just one donor could provide the following: Internal Organs (kidneys, heart, liver, pancreas, intestines, and lungs), Skin, Bones and Bone Marrow, Cornea, Cartilage, Fascia, Heart Valves, Ligaments, Pericardium, Tendons, and Veins. According to Organdonorawareness.org, “123,526 people are waiting right now for an organ, 4000 more are added daily, and 21 people die each day waiting for an organ. Organs and tissues from one donor can benefit up to 50 people. Living donors can donate a kidney, parts of a liver, lung, pancreas, and intestine. The risks for a living donor are the same as any major surgery and there is NO cost to the living donor. Organ and tissue donation and transplantation provide a second chance at life for thousands of people each year.”
We each have the opportunity to be one of the individuals making these miracles happen. How do I know if I can be a donor? Organtransplants.org says, “All people regardless of age should consider themselves a potential organ and tissue donor. There are only a few absolute exclusions: HIV infection, active cancer, systemic infections, and diabetes. Typically when a person suffers a cardiac death, the heart stops beating. The vital organs quickly become unusable for transplantation. But their tissues – such as bone, skin, heart valves and corneas – can be donated within the first 24 hours of death”
Maybe you remember Ricky Green of Arkadelphia, Arkansas; he drove the “Cajun Ricky Green Fishing Machine” in the 70’s – 90’s. Ricky was one of the legends in the sport of bass fishing. I spoke with Jerry McKinnis and Jimmy Houston, both very good friends and competitors of Ricky, about their friend and his struggles to get a double lung transplant.
Jimmy Houston told me,“ I met Ricky Green in 1968 at Greer’s Ferry, AR, a tournament I won; Ricky was really a quiet guy and I didn’t really get to know him at the tournament, but talked with him more at the next BASS event on Sam Rayburn a month later”. Houston said that while they were at Sam Rayburn, he bumped into Ricky at Dairy Queen, neither of their wives were with them, Houston told me that Ricky was one of a kind, he would “normally dress in JC Penny plaid pants and a collared shirt for tournaments. Ricky was a very consistent fisherman, meaning he always did well and most of the time he would catch the big bass.” Jimmy Houston continued, “tournaments back then were not like they are today, they were 300 people open draw tournaments and Ricky would almost always catch the big bass. This built his reputation as the Big Bass Man”. Ricky Green qualified for 14 consecutive Bassmaster Classics, setting a record in the 1976 Classic with a 8 pound 9 ounce largemouth bass he weighed; it held the record for close to 30 years (BASS archives). After finishing in the top ten in his first nine events, Ricky Green won his very first BASS event in 1974 on Sam Rayburn.
Jimmy Houston told me “Ricky was a smoker for much of his life which left him with COPD” (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), leaving him with breathing issues due to chronically poor airflow. “Ricky and his wife Bettye traveled to Florida to have a lung reduction surgery to help his COPD,” according to Houston. This helped Ricky for a few years before it became so bad that he spend time on the waiting list for a double lung transplant. According to Jerry McKinnis, he told me during this time, “The BASS community came together and threw a benefit for Ricky up in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Larry Nixon and Jimmy Houston were the event planners”. The event was very successful and brought a large draw of people within the fishing industry together to raise money to help Ricky with medical bills. Jimmy Houston said “the event was very successful and it helped pay for travel expenses while Ricky traveled to Florida. It also helped with and then the four or five months he spent in Houston, TX waiting for his new lungs.” When Ricky finally got the call for his new lungs, the surgery was a success and he was doing well. Jimmy Houston recalled the phone call from Ricky’s son Keith, saying the family had been called in due to an infection that Ricky received while recovering in this hospital.” McKinnis and Houston had nothing but wonderful things to say about this “Big Bass Hunter” Ricky Green who drove the “Cajun, Ricky Green Fishing Machine” (what fans called Ricky’s boat). Jimmy Houston said “it was a great loss the day I carried him to his grave.” Ricky Green died from complications from his double lung transplant on May 11, 2014 at Methodist Hospital in Houston, TX.
Erick Prado, a Dobyns Rod Company Pro-Staffer, had a liver transplant in 2010. Married with a six month old daughter, Erick found out he had an autoimmune disease that was killing his liver. Erick was an avid fisherman most of his life, still fishes and will always love fishing and the bass fishing family. Being a co-staffer with Erick, I wanted to speak with him about his journey during his 7-year wait for his liver transplant. Just like the bass fishing community, the Dobyns Rod family is a very close and tight knit group who pulls together to support each other.
BS: Tell me when your own liver shut down, what happened, and do they know why?
EP: “My liver shut down due to an autoimmune disease; in other words white cells attacked my liver and destroyed it. I was diagnosed in 2003; about six month after my little girl was born. The doctors don’t know why, no one else in my family has it, (thank God) and it’s not transferable so my daughter does not have it.”
BS: What was it like to sit and wait for the phone call for your liver?
EP: “I was on a waiting list for over 7 1/2 years by the time I was up for a transplant. My body was shutting down, and other organs were beginning to fail as well due to the extra pressure that was put on them. Honestly, doctors don’t know how I lived so long being so very ill.”
BS: Do you know how you got your liver?
EP: “My Donor was a young person who was killed in a motorcycle accident. I have never talked with my donor’s family, they didn’t want to know who received the organs and frankly I am good with that. I wouldn’t even know what to say to them, it’s tough.”
BS: What would you say to the person who donated their liver to you if you could talk with them?
EP: “I would hug them; tell him/her that I am a good person. I would show them a picture of my wife and daughter and say thank you for giving me more time with them. Honestly it’s a gift I can never repay, but I will live the remainder of my life trying to feel worthy of this second chance”
BS: How did your new liver change your life?
EP: “My new liver changed me in that I have slowed way down. I get tired easy now, but this time around I am living my life 100%; making the most of every day and being thankful for every single moment in my life.”
BS: Why is it important to be an organ donor?
EP: “It’s important to be a donor of any type; from organs, tissue, or even blood. The life you save maybe loved ones. In my case, it was a new chance at life.”
BS: Did you fish more or less before the transplant?
EP: “I fished a lot more before but I still go out and I can still put a hurting on the fish”
BS: Tell me what fishing means to you.
EP: “Fishing is my happy place where I just chill. I don’t care what I’m chasing, from fresh water bass to saltwater bass, I am at peace when I am fishing.”
BS: What is your rod of choice and lure of choice?
EP: “I love topwater baits, poppers are my all time favorite. My favorite lure is the Rio Rico by Lobina”
BS: Tell me why you choose to use Dobyns Rods?
EP: “The Dobyns 745c has to be my “all time favorite rod”; I use it for jig fishing. But, I feel I could use that one rod for most of my fishing. It feels like a fishing rod should feel in my hands, comfortable and balanced”.
I have said many times the bass fishing community is like a family we can choose to be part of. It is a great family to be in because we help each other however we can, whenever or wherever it is needed. From Don Barone’s (DB) ‘Tackle the Storm Foundation’ putting rods back in the hands of fisherman (www.tacklethestorm.org), Mike Iaconelli’s ‘Ike Foundation’ (www.mikeiaconelli.com/ikefoundation), Chris Lane’s ‘Fish Camp’ (www.chrislanefishing.com), or just going out to the Red Cross and donating a pint of blood, we can all make a difference. We troll though life on a daily basis and hardly stop to think; “what if” I needed a transplant, what if my child needed a transplant, what if I needed blood transfusion to live?
I challenge each of you reading this piece to stop and think about how becoming a donor could change lives and how many lives you could actually change. We can’t become complacent in life. We just assume we are invincible, when in reality tomorrow could be our last day here. How have we changed the world? How much have we helped those around us? How much more could we do to help others?
May God bless your lives richly, please consider becoming a donor if you are not already listed as an organ donor.