Nashville, TN (TN Tribune)–In a time when it seems Democrats and Republicans will never agree on anything, something refreshing and potentially lifesaving is happening in Tennessee, thanks to two state representatives on opposite sides of the aisle. When it comes to encouraging others to register as organ, eye, and tissue donors, Representative Vincent Dixie (D-Nashville), the Democratic Caucus Chair, and Representative Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby), the Republican Caucus Chair, agree.
Rep. Dixie did something that rarely happens at the Capitol, when Rep. Jeremy Faison introduced House Joint Resolution 103 in April to encourage Tennesseans to sign up to be organ donors: he found common ground with Faison. Dixie, in fact, stood up on the House floor in support of the resolution and shared a touching personal story about his mother-in-law, a lady he affectionately calls “Mom,” becoming an organ donor hero after her death several years ago. Now, Rep. Dixie wants to encourage others to register as organ, eye and tissue donors and share their decision with others.
“Mother’s” Life and Legacy
Dixie’s mother-in-law, Nolen “Dollene” Myles, was 71 years old when she died suddenly, following a ruptured brain aneurysm. She was able to donate her liver and both kidneys, as well as her corneas and tissue. Recently, Rep. Dixie and his wife Ericka shared more about “Mother” and how her decision to be a donor hero has helped them through their family’s loss.
Rep. Dixie describes Mrs. Myles as a no-nonsense lady who loved her family and was very involved with her granddaughters’ lives as they were growing up. She was petite and pretty, so her friends called her “Doll.” In fact, her doll-like stature was magnified when she stood next to Ronald Myles, her husband, who stands 6 feet, 4 inches tall.
Born in Franklin County and raised outside of Decherd, Tennessee, Mrs. Myles went to Tennessee State University, where she received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education. Her career began as a student teacher in Memphis. Myles later moved to Davidson County to teach in the public school system. She was a life-long educator and retired in 2000 as an elementary school principal at Morny Elementary School in Joelton, TN.
“She was the best mom in the whole world! She put everyone before herself,” Mrs. Dixie
fondly recalls of her mother. “She was what all moms should be, if you want to raise your kids and have a perfect world where everybody is just happy, loving, and caring. Nobody could ever take her place, and we miss her so much.”
Mrs. Myles loved playing bridge and belonged to two active bridge clubs, Mississippi Mud and Queen of Hearts. Myles and many of the ladies played bridge in the same clubs for over 40 years, traveling yearly to Gulfport, Mississippi, to spend a week playing bridge and shopping. After Hurricane Katrina devastated the area in 2005, the annual trip moved to Destin, Florida, to continue the tradition.
Mrs. Myles was an active and healthy 71-year-old grandmother who walked every day for the last 30 years, rain or shine. Her death was a shock to both her family and friends.
“She walked three miles every day. The morning she had the aneurysm, she was out walking,” states Rep. Dixie. “I had talked to her that very morning. Then, as I was leaving the house, I got a call saying they thought Mother had suffered a stroke.”
Mrs. Myles was taken to Baptist Hospital in Nashville (now St. Thomas Midtown), and Rep. Dixie rushed there, too. He called Mrs. Dixie, and she rushed to be by her mother’s side. Rep. Dixie then left his wife with her mom to go see his father-in-law, who was recovering from back surgery in Vanderbilt hospital. Because the prognosis for Mrs. Myles wasn’t good, Rep. Dixie was able to get his father-in-law discharged so that he could be with his wife.
“It was the worst day of our lives; it was the best day of 3 other people’s lives.”
Saturday, April 18, 2015, should have been a happy day for Rep. and Mrs. Dixie because their youngest daughter, HannahMaria, was to have her First Communion on that Easter weekend. That morning, Mother was pronounced dead from the brain aneurysm. Because Mrs. Myles had put her wishes for organ donation in her will, she became a donor hero to several others.
“She made making those decisions a lot easier on us,” states Dixie. “It is already a stressful time. Knowing what Mother wanted just made it a lot easier on the family.”
Even at 71, Mrs. Myles was able to save three lives through organ donation and help many others through cornea and tissue donation.
“I am very happy she chose to be a donor,” Mrs. Dixie says. She recalls her interactions with the Tennessee Donor Services staff at the time:
“The staff explained the process of recovering someone’s tissues and organs and how one’s organs are eligible for donation after dying a brain death. They knew what I was going through,” adds Mrs. Dixie. “Everyone was very patient and understanding.”
“I was able to stay with my mother until she was wheeled into the operating room. I understood she was a godsend to those who were barely holding on to life. I was told the recipient of her liver was already in a local hospital, and their days were numbered when they received the news that a donor was found. Thinking about how relieved and grateful that person and their family felt to have another chance at life helped to ease the grief and sadness my family and I were feeling. Mother was now, like she had always ways been for us, someone’s angel and saving grace.”
Rep. and Mrs. Dixie were told the other two organ recipients were located in other states.
“The ability to be able to save a life is so powerful! We are happy for the recipients and their families. We hope they are doing well.”
Amidst their grief over losing Mother, the Dixie family was grateful that the recipients were going to have a chance to make many more memories with their own loved ones.
“Even though it was the worst day of our lives, it was the best day of three other people’s live,” Rep. Dixie says.
Advocating for Organ and Tissue Donation
Having experienced firsthand Mother’s being a donor hero, Rep. and Mrs. Dixie encourage others to learn more about donation and consider registering as an organ and tissue donor.
“Honestly, I had not thought about donation, before Mother died,” states Rep. Dixie. “Do some research, look it up and make sure you understand donation. If you have questions, ask someone knowledgeable, like Tennessee Donor Services. Talk to your family and make sure they know your decision.”
Knowing how Mother’s decision saved three lives through organ donation and improved many others’ through cornea and tissue donation, Rep. Dixie has found this common ground with Rep. Faison on the opposite side of the aisle. Rep. Faison was also touched by the opportunity to donate a loved one’s organs after his sister died when he was a teenager.
Now, both leaders are part of Tennessee Donor Services’ #BeTheGift Tennessee Challenge to register more organ and tissue donors in Tennessee.
“This is definitely not a partisan issue. This is a life issue. It is a public health issue. It is something that we all should be doing to begin with,” states Rep. Dixie. “We all have the potential to save someone’s life through donation. This is an opportunity to re-examine how you could really impact the world for good. Everyone can help in this way.”
Currently, there are over 3,000 people waiting for the gift of life in Tennessee. That number grows to a staggering 107,000 nationally. To put that in perspective, Neyland Stadium’s seating capacity is just over 102,400.
August is Multicultural Donor Awareness Month
August is nationally observed as Multicultural Donor Awareness Month, and Tennessee Donor Services proudly joins this 25th year of celebrating one voice, one vision to save and heal lives!
It is a month to continue to educate, share stories, and celebrate life and legacy. Why is Multicultural Donor Awareness Month needed? More than 60% of patients on the national transplant waiting list are from multicultural communities. The need for donation and transplant is more pronounced in multicultural and minority communities, where disproportionately higher rates of diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease contribute to organ failure, especially kidney failure.
Transplants can be successful regardless of the race or ethnicity of the donor and recipient. The chance of longer-term survival may be greater if the donor and recipient are closely matched in terms of their shared genetic background. Matching donor diversity and patient diversity can help save more lives.
With the #BeTheGift Tennessee Challenge, Tennessee Donor Services hopes to engage many other leaders and organizations across all communities to help encourage Tennesseans to register to #BeTheGift as organ, eye, and tissue donors. It is quick and simple: just go to BeTheGiftToday.com/TN to register or sign up when obtaining a driver license, ID, or learner permit at the Department of Public Safety. And then be sure to talk with your family members about the decision. As the Dixie family experienced, having this decision made in advance was itself a gift, a glimmer of clarity and hope amidst tragedy.