Off Base
Spring Ahead for Transplants

March 29, 2010, 5:55 p.m.

An old episode of Cheers starts with Coach off at the DMV, getting his driver's license renewed. When he gets back to the bar, Sam asks him how it went. "They asked me for my kidneys, Sam! It used to be just ten bucks!!"

Well, it's that time of year again, and while we won't ask you for your kidneys, we'd like to at least broach this very important topic.

Spring is more than just the beginning of another baseball season, important as that is. April is always National Donate Life Month, and this year, April 18 to April 24 marks National Organ and Tissue Donor Awareness Week (NOTDAW). Please take the opportunity to talk to your family about the subject. It's a difficult one to get into, but there's no better time.

Let's set the triple-crown stats aside for a second, and consider another big three. There are over 100,000 people on organ transplant waiting lists in the United States. Picture Dodger Stadium and Camden Yards, standing room only.

18 die each day. That's like a section of Bleacher Bums splitting in the third inning of a September matinee against the Cards.

From the pool of what you might think are available organs from deaths in this country, only about 5% are termed brain-deaths, the standard used for transplantation. Out of that small number, only 1/2 of 1% are recovered and used to give life to someone on a waiting list. For a variety of reasons.

This much is sure. Carrying a donor card is great, but that in itself assures nothing. Family members still need to give the go-ahead, and in many cases, there’s been little or no discussion about the individual’s wishes, making an agonizing decision that much more difficult.

Yes, there are a few patients, human beings, actual people, who fall through the cracks and are let down by the system; by actual people who mess up. Those few cases make for sensational stories, which is the only reason why you even hear about them in the first place. It is because these failings are so rare that they make news at all.

But this isn't a sob story. It's not about heart failure, if you will. It's about heart success. The process works. It needs to work better, but it works.

I speak from what I know, OK, and I’m grateful. I was one of the lucky ones. There was a motorcycle accident somewhere in Los Angeles. The parents of a 19 year old young man said yes, and within 48 hours, the young man's heart was thriving inside the chest of a total stranger. His liver had saved the life of another; his kidneys, two more.

It was September 22, 1990. Tommy Lasorda’s 63rd birthday. The Dodgers were in a pennant race when they cut me open, and when I woke up hours later, that kidney was producing you-know-what like nobody’s business. A rather large sample size, if you know what I mean. OK, pee, if you don't know what I mean.

Meanwhile, in a year when there was talk that the rest of the division was actually pulling for L.A. to lose, the San Diego Padres had rolled over both ends of a doubleheader to the eventual World Champion Cincinnati Reds, and that, my friends, was that. New life for me, sure, but no such luck for the Dodgers.

Like I said, I was one of the lucky ones. I joke about baseball in part because it’s a distraction from the serious stuff. As one of the lucky ones I enjoy that luxury. 100,000-plus others don’t. Not yet, anyway.

They say there are two times when you're to be congratulated entering a hospital. One is when you're having a baby. The other is when you're having a transplant operation.

It's spring, a time for optimism. We're baseball fans. We all feel it. Maybe that's why donor awareness comes up in April.

Coach got a little excited there. We're not asking for your organs. Use them in good health. Take them to as many games as possible. Seatbelts fastened, please.

We're not asking for money. Just talk to your family and make your wishes clear, if you've come to grips with them yourself. If you haven't, please give it some thought. That's all.

For more information, please visit

And remember, glove conquers all. Or at least, almost all….




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