Siblings Jeffrey Lovejoy, 25, and Taylor Dell, 23, stand with their mother, Randi McCary, of Burton, who holds an electrocardiogram from the heart of her son, Gage Engel, who died and donated his organs in 2017 at age 19. The print, a gift from the heart recipient, was taken when Engel’s heart was transferred to the recipient’s chest.

Siblings Jeffrey Lovejoy, 25, and Taylor Dell, 23, stand with their mother, Randi McCary, of Burton, who holds an electrocardiogram from the heart of her son, Gage Engel, who died and donated his organs in 2017 at age 19. The print, a gift from the heart recipient, was taken when Engel’s heart was transferred to the recipient’s chest.

Photo by Donna Agusti


Organ donation offers hope, new leases on life

By: Sarah Wojcik | C&G Newspapers | Published May 8, 2019

 Randi McCary holds a poster she made for her son, Gage Engel, whose organ donations helped seven strangers after he was struck and killed by a vehicle in Flint at age 19, at her home in Burton.

Randi McCary holds a poster she made for her son, Gage Engel, whose organ donations helped seven strangers after he was struck and killed by a vehicle in Flint at age 19, at her home in Burton.

Photo by Donna Agusti

 Marge Del Greco, of West Bloomfield, holds a Shining Star Award she received from Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson April 24. The award honors those who have shown strong support of organ, tissue and eye donor awareness.

Marge Del Greco, of West Bloomfield, holds a Shining Star Award she received from Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson April 24. The award honors those who have shown strong support of organ, tissue and eye donor awareness.

Photo provided by Tim Makinen

 Gage Engel

Gage Engel

METRO DETROIT — Nothing compares to the searing grief of losing a loved one, but learning that their organ donation saved or improved the lives of others can help temper the pain.

By signing up as an organ donor, a single person can donate up to eight lifesaving organs plus tissues that can improve the lives of up to 75 others. In Michigan, there are just under 3,000 individuals waiting for an organ transplant.

Randi McCary, of Burton, and her family know firsthand the impact that organ donation has on life and loss. On Sept. 18, 2017, McCary’s 19-year-old son, Gage Engel, was struck by a vehicle while crossing a Flint street after leaving his job as a cook at Texas Roadhouse. He died the next day at Hurley Medical Center.

“He (signed up to be an organ donor) on his own when he was 15,” McCary said. “It’s actually because of Gage that we have so many friends and family that have now changed their status to donor.”

According to a letter from Gift of Life dated Oct. 19, 2017, Engel’s organ donations affected seven lives: A 6-year-old girl received his right kidney, a 43-year-old man received his pancreas and left kidney, a 64-year-old man received his heart, a 54-year-old woman received his liver, a 66-year-old man received his right lung, and a 63-year-old woman received his left lung.

“Now we’re trying to get the word out about organ donation and trying to use his name to do good things,” McCary said. “We made kindness cards that we pass out with his picture on them.”

She remembers her son as an avid Detroit Tigers and “Star Wars” fan who spread love and support wherever he went and amassed an army of friends.

A former Shelby Township resident, who wished to remain anonymous, received Engel’s heart, and McCary said they continue to regularly correspond.

“(Of all of the organ recipients), I only heard from (him and his) family,” McCary said. “Honest to God, I feel like they were handpicked for me. I love them and they’re so supportive.”

On the other end of the spectrum, Marge Del Greco, of West Bloomfield, is a two-time liver recipient. She was first diagnosed with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease in 2001.

A year and a half after being placed on a transplant list, she said she received a call at 3 a.m. to come to the hospital within 45 minutes, and doctors immediately performed the 12-hour surgery. Following an eight-day hospital stay, Del Greco returned to her life.

However, there were complications. She began to get sick in 2005 and eventually ended up in the hospital in 2009.

“Everything started shutting down,” Del Greco said. “They gave me two weeks to live if I didn’t get another liver.”

Miraculously, a donor came through, and she underwent the surgery again, this time with a three-week recovery period in the hospital.

Since 2012, Del Greco has co-chaired Team Michigan as part of the Donate Life Transplant Games of America. She also volunteers extensively with Gift of Life Michigan.

“It takes a long time to recover, and you never get back to 100% of your old self. You’re living a new life and taking meds every day for the rest of your life,” she said. “Volunteering is my passion right now, to bring awareness to the importance of organ and tissue donation. This is my way of paying it back.”

She said she has no other way to thank the donors, both men, whose livers saved her life.

“Every single donor is a hero,” Del Greco said. “I’m thankful every day when I wake up that I’m here.”

The stories are countless.

“There are no disqualifications to join the donor registry,” Gift of Life Michigan Director of Communications Tim Makinen said. “The oldest (organ donor) was almost 92, and we’ve had tissue donors over age 100.”

Smoking, drug use and health problems also do not disqualify anyone from becoming an organ donor, he said.

“In 2018, Gift of Life Michigan had a record year. We had 338 organ donors for the first time ever, which led to more than 1,087 organs transplanted from Michigan donors,” Makinen said. “The idea is to get organs to the person who is sickest and needs it the most.”

Alex Teska, of Eversight, an organization that works to give people the gift of sight, clarified that corneal transplants focus on the clear tissue in the front of the eye that looks like a contact lens.

“We don’t actually transplant the entire eye,” she said. “Last year, 1,446 Michigan patients received the gift of sight, and we help over 8,000 nationally per year.”

Corneal transplants are easier than organ transplants because they are avascular, so no blood matching is involved, Teska said. She added that the outpatient surgery has a 90% success rate.

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said clerks at all branches ask every person who comes through the doors if they would like to join the Michigan Organ Donor Registry.

“Last year alone, 400,000 (people joined) through our branch officers,” Benson said. “It’s a unique way people can ensure they are saving lives long after they’ve lived their own.”

To become an organ donor or learn more information, visit www.michigan.gov/organdonation or www.giftoflifemichigan.org.


Did you know?

• Each organ donor can save up to eight lives, and each tissue donor can improve the lives of up to 75 people.

• The eight organs able to be donated are lungs (2), liver, pancreas, heart, kidneys (2) and intestines.

• More than 9,000 Michigan patients have received a lifesaving organ transplant in the past 10 years. Many tens of thousands more have benefited from tissue and corneal transplants.

• Just under 3,000 Michigan residents are on a waiting list for an organ transplant, the lowest number since 2012. About 114,000 people are waiting nationwide.

• There is no waiting list for corneal transplants.

•  More than 66% of Michigan’s 7.6 million adults have made the decision to help others by joining the Michigan Organ Donor Registry.

•  On average, 17 Michigan residents have organ transplants each week.

•  Each day in the U.S., 88 lives are saved by an organ transplant, while 22 people die waiting for a transplant.

Information provided by Gift of Life Michigan

 

Call Staff Writer Sarah Wojcik at (586) 218-5006.