Messages from Beyond: A Forensic Pathologist Shares Her Experience
MY DONOR’S NAME IS DANNE
By Janis Amatuzio. MD
Kim sat anxiously in the surgical waiting room at Latter Day Saints Hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah, in the spring of 1994. Her sister was asleep in the chair next to her. The long-awaited phone call from the transplant coordinator had come last evening. “We have a match!” the coordinator excitedly told her. “We have both a kidney and a pancreas for your husband. Please come to the hospital right away.”
Kim and Mike had waited a long time for this day. Mike had been diagnosed with insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus as a child. Now he was thirty-two years old with a wife and three children. He had carefully controlled his blood sugars over the years with multiple daily insulin injections. However, despite his attention, the disease continued to take its toll on his kidneys, blood vessels, eyes, and nerves. Mike’s physician, Dr. Harry Laughton, a well-known endocrinologist, had urged Mike to consider a pancreas and kidney transplant, although at that time this was still considered an experimental treatment. Only three others had been performed at Latter Day Saints Hospital. Mike treasured life and desperately wanted to be there to see his children grow up. He jumped at the opportunity and began the rigorous testing and preparation for the transplant.
Mike had been in surgery for over six hours. Kim was dozing in the family room between frequent updates from the operating room staff. Now one of the aides notified her that the physician would be in to speak with her soon; the procedure had gone well, and the surgical team was closing. Shortly thereafter, the chief surgeon walked in, a smile on his face. “We did it, and Mike is doing well,” he said. “We’re not out of the woods yet, but now he has a chance at a full life.”
“When can I see him?” Kim asked.
“At least another hour, as soon as we’ve stabilized him in the post-anesthesia recovery room and he’s awake. Why don’t you get something to eat and come back in a little while,” the surgeon suggested.
The time passed quickly for Kim, and the door opened once again. “You can come in now,” a nurse from the recovery room said. “He is just arousing from the anesthesia.” Kim walked through the doors. Tears welled up in her eyes as she saw her husband. An aide put a chair next to the bed and pulled the curtains partway to give them some privacy. Kim leaned forward and kissed her husband lightly on the cheek, her hand cupped gently over his. “Mike, I am here,” she whispered. He turned his head toward her touch and opened his eyes.
“Kim.” He whispered hoarsely. She bent closer to him. “Kim,” he said, “my donor’s name is Danne.” He smiled faintly and closed his eyes again. Kim slowly sank back in the chair, a puzzled look on her face. She shook her head and then tucked the words away, wondering if they were due to the effects of anesthesia. When she returned to the waiting room, Kim told her sister of Mike’s condition and of his cryptic message. Her sister sat up abruptly. “Oh, my gosh, Kim!” she said with alarm. “A man with that name died last night. His name, Danne Lynch, was on the board in the surgical waiting room. Do you think—?”
Thirty-six hours earlier in New Brighton, Minnesota, Patti Harvey had been awakened from sleep at 3:30 a.m. by the insistent ring of her phone. She sat up in bed and in the instant before she picked it up, she knew it concerned her oldest son.
“Is this Danne Lynch’s mother?” the voice on the line asked.
“Yes, it is. This is Patti Harvey.”
“This is Dr. Adams from Latter Day Saints Emergency Room in Salt Lake City. Ma’am, your son was severely injured in a car accident this evening,” he informed her.
“Is he going to make it?” she asked.
Dr. Adams hesitated.
“I have to know,” Patti Harvey said.
“I don’t think so,” Dr. Adams answered gently. “He is still alive but has very serious head injuries.”
“I’ll catch the first plane to Salt Lake City. Dr. Adams, please do your best. But no matter what happens, I want you to know my son is an organ donor.”
Patti hastily made arrangements to fly to Salt Lake City and in the meantime called hourly for updates. Danne was her oldest son, now twenty-seven, and he had always been a risk taker. He had moved to Salt Lake City eight months earlier, pursuing both a love and a job. On a rainy night, under the influence of alcohol, he had lost control of his car and overturned on a slippery bridge over the Jordan River. His seat-belted passenger walked away from the crash with minor injuries. Danne, who was unrestrained, suffered head injuries that would prove fatal.
The hours after Dr. Adams’s phone call passed in a blur for Patti. Friends and family gathered upon hearing the news. Northwest Airlines even held a flight for them, and the family was taken out to board the plane on the runway. When Patti arrived at the hospital in Salt Lake City and saw her son hooked to tubes and a respirator, she knew in her heart that he would not live, but she had the opportunity to spend time at his side during his last hours, grateful that she was there to still care for him.
She recalled one of their last conversations several weeks earlier and how she had almost dismissed it. Danne had just renewed his driver’s license and informed her that he had chosen to be an organ donor.
When Danne was pronounced brain dead, the family left the hospital. All the necessary forms for the donor coordinator had been signed. After the transplant procedure was complete, Danne’s body was cremated according to his family’s wishes, and his remains were sent home for a funeral service in New Brighton.
Mike recovered steadily, although he had to spend the next few days in the intensive care unit, followed by several weeks on the transplant floor where he was monitored for signs of infection or organ rejection. The new kidney and pancreas were working well, and Mike was filled with gratitude and joy.
One afternoon several days after the surgery found Kim sitting and reading in his room. She looked at him and quietly said, “Mike, you said something to me right after surgery. Do you remember?”
“How could I forget?” he answered. “I said ‘My donor’s name is Danne.’ You know, Kim, I saw him...”
“How do you know that?” she asked.
“Well, it was the most amazing thing that has ever happened to me, and words don’t really explain it.”
“I remember that everything before the operation was a blur. I was so excited and rushed and, you know how I felt —” He paused. “You know, someone died so I can live. That’s giving the ultimate gift.” And his eyes welled up with tears. “Something happened to me in there. Something happened during surgery. At some point I realized I could hear all of the conversations in the operating room, and then I could see what was happening to me from up above. There was no pain; I just watched everything. I saw the organs brought into the OR after mine had been removed. They were in a blue container and packed in ice. At that moment, I felt such an extraordinary wave of love and gratitude. It was so intimate, so profound, that in that moment I said, ‘I want to see my donor.’
“In the next instant, I just seemed to pass through a wall. Just like that! And then I saw him; he was lying there. He was a real good-looking man, with long, sandy hair, and he looked about my age. He was thin and, you know, long. The next thing that happened to me — well, again, it’s hard to explain.”
“I’m listening,” she said, fascinated.
Mike paused as if struggling for words. “I was just sucked up into the light. You know, Kim, it was like a giant vacuum cleaner,” he said with a smile. “I felt myself suddenly, abruptly lifted up by this incredible force, this light, and I heard the words, ‘Danne died and you are going to live.’ I saw three luminous beings. One of them I recognized as my aunt. She was wearing the scarf I’d given her before she died. Next to
her was Danne, and the other being, well, he was so familiar, someone who had known me all my life, but I just couldn’t figure out who he was. I felt such love, such passion, and such joy. Kim, there just aren’t words. There aren’t words for it.” He paused. “But you know, I’m different now. I know something. I know who I am, and I will forever know that I was in a sacred, familiar place. I will never fear anything again. Life and love is all there is.”
The tears that had begun flowing when he started to tell his story had wet his face and the sheets. “I’m overwhelmed. I have Danne’s kidney and pancreas. I am part of Danne’s life, and he is part of mine. It was somehow, some way, perfect.”
As she listened, Kim suddenly realized that tears had started streaming down her face, too, and they had not stopped the whole time Mike was speaking. “We are blessed,” she whispered.
“More than we know,” Mike replied.
Mike was released from Latter Day Saints Hospital approximately four weeks later, and he grew stronger with each passing day.
Shortly after she had heard her husband’s extraordinary story, Kim looked through the obituaries in the local paper. There she found “Danne Lynch, 27-year-old man, died April 15, 1994; survived by his mother and stepfather, Mr. and Mrs. William Harvey, of New Brighton, Minnesota, and father, Robert Lynch, of Ramsey, Minnesota.”
Taking an enormous leap of faith, Kim decided to contact the family. She discovered there were three William Harveys listed in New Brighton, Minnesota, and got their phone numbers. She called the first two on her list, but neither recognized the name Danne Lynch. Then, on a hunch, Kim tried something that under normal circumstances would never work. She called 411 again and explained about her husband, his experience, and her mission, and convinced the operator to give her the third William Harvey’s address. Several days later, Patti Harvey received a letter in the mail from Kim.
It began, “Dear Mrs. Harvey, You don’t know me, but a part of you is very close to me.” and concluded “I do not wish to intrude, but if you would like to call, here’s our phone number.”
Patti Harvey, whom I had come to know through a mutual friend, the radio talk show host Brad Walton (Brad had interviewed me about my first book), related this story to me as we had lunch together. “What did you do?” I asked her.
“Well, I called her that very day, in fact, the very instant I read the letter. It felt right to me, and I missed Danne so much!
“Right then and there, I agreed I would meet them several weeks later when I returned to Salt Lake City for another visit. Danne’s girlfriend picked me up at the airport, and we drove to Kim and Mike’s house. My heart was truly in shreds, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I walked into their home and first met their children. And then I met Mike. His eyes were filled with tears, and he took me in his arms and hugged me for a long time. We sat down in the living room. Their youngest son promptly curled up in my lap and fell asleep.
“I handed Mike a photo of Danne, and he gasped, ‘That’s him. That’s the man I saw.’ He then told me of his extraordinary journey on that night of April 15, 1994. I listened in awe, and my heart leaped with joy. When he finished, I put my hand on his little son’s head as he slept in my lap. I realized at that moment that my heart was beginning to heal. Michael’s experience was for me the gift of life itself.”
I put down my pen and sat there amazed.
“There’s one more thing, Janis,” Patti said. “It’s been quite a few years now since Danne died, and Mike and Kim just had their first grandchild. As the years have passed, the donation of my son’s organs has given me such a sense of comfort and peace. It has connected me deeply with the beautiful knowing that ‘Life goes on.’”
Excerpted from Beyond Knowing by Janis Amatuzio, MD. Copyright © 2006 by Janis Amatuzio, MD. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission New World Library. $21.95. Available in local bookstores or call 800-972-6657, Ext. 52 or click here.