Within a year of each other, we lost our sons. Suddenly and heart-wrenchingly. Nothing could have prepared us for the way in which our lives were upended.
Jake was an athletic 15-year-old who loved the Washington Capitals and was a talented hockey player himself and played on his high school team. Junior came to the United States from Colombia when he was five, had recently graduated from high school and was working toward his goal of becoming a cardiovascular surgeon. Both had so much more to accomplish.
While our own lives and backgrounds may appear very different, we have one, beautiful thing in common – our sons are heroes. They were organ donors and together saved the lives of 10 dying strangers. The knowledge that Jake and Junior gave these patients and their families the miracle they needed, gives us hope.
In the case of Junior, the decision to be a donor had already been made. He was 18 at the time of his death and had checked the box to be an organ donor on a recent trip to the DMV. This was his selfless decision, and something I supported.
With Jake, his father and I knew he would have wanted this. Organ donation was a true testament to his incredibly loving soul. And, as a health professional, I understood the critical importance of organ donation from a clinical perspective.
Because we both live in Northern Virginia, we were guided through this process by Washington Regional Transplant Community (WRTC), the non-profit organ procurement organization (OPO) that facilitates the organ donation process in the DC metro area. WRTC professionals were compassionate and helpful, explained our options, walked us through the process, asked about our sons’ medical and social histories, and supported us in our crushing grief.
Before our sons’ deaths, we knew little about WRTC and the complexity of the organ donation process. Today, because of our shared experience, we are both vocal and proud advocates on behalf of organ donation. There are so many people in need of a lifesaving transplant, more than 113,000 nationally, and nearly 2,500 right here in the Washington region. One organ donor can save eight lives and heal many more through tissue donation. Together, Jake and Junior saved 10 lives by donating the vital organs of kidneys, liver, lungs, pancreas and heart.
The entire process was conducted with respect and compassion. First and foremost, organ donation can only be considered after all lifesaving efforts have been exhausted. We know the first responders and hospital care teams did everything they could to save our sons. Also, donation can't take place unless it's been designated by the potential donor, also called first-person authorization or approved by the legal next-of-kin. Also, strict standards are in place to ensure the ethical and fair distribution of these precious gifts.
So, if you aren’t already signed up to be an organ donor, please consider it. All of us have these precious gifts inside us and may be a hero someday by giving individuals a second chance of life – just like our sons. We encourage you to visit BeADonor.org and sign up today. As we enter the holiday season, we find solace knowing other families will make more memories with their loved ones because Junior and Jake’s last acts of generosity.
Silvia Leitch, Woodbridge, VA - mother of Robin (Junior) Buritica Carvajal, July 6, 1999 - October 29, 2017
Deborah Levine-Kotin M.S. CCC-SLP, BCS-S, CEIM, Ashburn, VA - mother of Jacob Kotin, October 15, 2001-December 17, 2016