(This article is from the Tri-Valley Herald)

Gift-giving at heart of organ donors

Organ recipient


Thursday, November 27, 2003 - LIVERMORE --

Rebecca Engilbertsson will tell you that she received a priceless holiday gift five years ago.

In November 1998, after 26 years of living with diabetes and following 15 months on dialysis, Engilbertsson received a new kidney and pancreas. Since then, she has been preaching the benefits of being an organ donor.

Engilbertsson, 47, and the Rev. Marty Williams led a ceremony observing "National Donor Sabbath Sunday," at United Christian Church in Livermore. Engilbertsson talked to people about her experience in receiving "the gift of life."

Engilbertsson's new organs were donated by Anton Segal, 28, who was killed outside a San Francisco night club. Her gift stemmed from Segal's untimely death, but Engilbertsson still keeps in contact with the family.

When Engilbertsson told the Segal family about her church presentation, they asked her to convey an important message.

"Anton remains a living part of you, and we love and cherish both you and him for that," Jim and Yo Yo Segal said in a letter to Engilbertsson.

"Life is short and unpredictable," they wrote. "This is life -- this is it, today, right now. There is random chaos in the world and who knows about tomorrow? So today, no, this moment, cherish those you love, tell them how much you love them, hold them close, hug them often and recognize this fact of life; it cannot last. Enjoy it now, while you, and they, can."

Cathy Olmo, community outreach coordinator for the California Transplant Donor Network, also spoke at the event.

Olmo says it's her experience that the majority of donors' families can be comforted that the death of a loved one can improve the life of another person.

"A lot of donor families say that this is the only positive thing that comes out of the death of a loved one," Olmo said. "It's about altruistic giving, and all about giving help to other people."

Those listening to the presentation said the stories convey a serious message to the community.

"I read that the church was going to have the National Donor Sabbath," said Barbara Costerus, a Pleasanton resident who received a liver donation in January 2001. "I know that as a recipient we need to talk about how important it is."

Olmo said keeping people educated about the procedures and the need is very important.

"We've got the technology, the doctors, the medicine and the hospitals," Olmo said. "We just need people to start saying yes to donations."

Another goal of the organ recipients and network is to quash misconceptions about organ donations.

Olmo said myths -- that celebrities get preferential treatment and that donors aren't myths is through discussion and education.

"We need to get people to think about it and to talk about it with their families," Olmo said.

"This is a casual discussion that's a 'driving in the car' type of conversation. It shouldn't be an ICU conversation."

Olmo, whose 16-year-old daughter Kelly received a liver transplant when she was 2, said that the one of the best ways to get people to donate their organs is to get them to consider the possibility of their loved ones needing a transplant.

"This happens to people like you and me. When you put a face to it, then it becomes someone's mother, sister or daughter," she said.

For more information about the Organ Donor Transplant Network and its services cal1-888-570-9400 or visit www.ctdn.org

Contact Joe Gaspar at (925) 416-4884 or e-mail jgaspar@angnewspapers.com .