Thursday, March 29, 2012

Transplants and Knuckleheads

Last Saturday, former Vice-President Dick Cheney received a heart transplant after spending nearly two years on the waiting list. Cheney's original heart had been severely damaged by multiple heart attacks leading to him receiving an AICD, or automatic inplantable cardioverter defibrillator, several years ago. An AICD is a device that regulates a heart disease patient's heart rythym. It can deliver a shock to a patient's heart if they suffer a severe, life-threatening, abnormal heart rythym. Unfortunately, I know about them all to well having carried one around in my chest for nearly seven years leading up to my heart transplant. Cheney and I now have two things in common - we've both had AICDs and heart transplants.

Dick Cheney, Vice President of the United States.
Dick Cheney, Vice President of the United States. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
During the course of the last week, I've read multiple articles, news reports, and opinion pieces on the internet concerning Cheney's transplant. Many of them have been ugly, mean-spirited, and spewn hatred at Cheney because he received a "second chance" at life. Others have offered encouragement and congratulations to Cheney and his family. I join the rank of this group in congratulating V-P Cheney and offering my best wishes and prayers for a quick and complete recovery. Cheney is a blessed man getting to spend more time with his wife, kids, and grandkids, as well as having more time to enjoy his hobbies. While I haven't always agreed with Mr. Cheney politically, I am truly happy for him. I hope he makes the most of his new life.

Cheney's transplant has spurned a new conversation about organ and tissue donation and transplants in this country. To be honest, I think that's a good thing. More press breeds more awareness. Awareness is good. It seems that the discussion is revolving around three main points :
  1. Should Cheney, at 71 years-old, have been given a transplant due to the fact that donated organs are so scarce ?
  2. Shouldn't the heart Cheney received have gone to a younger person more likely to get the most out of this scarce resource because they would likely live longer ?
  3. Was Cheney given special consideration because of his wealth, reputation, and position ?
After watching, hearing, and reading what all the pundits and others have said for the last week, I decided it's time for The Sheepdog to weigh in on the subject. Some are gonna agree with me, and some are gonna be as mad as a hornet. Then again, isn't that a normal everyday occurrence here on The Sheepdog ? Why should today be any different ? Right ?

I'll deal with the first and second point concurrently. The answer to whether Cheney should have been given a heart transplant at his age is a resounding, "Yes !" Why shouldn't he be ? If he was the best match for that heart, and was the next in line for it, then absolutely he should get it. He had done his time on the list - nearly two years ! As far as the argument that it should have gone to a younger person, there are two things wrong with that argument. First, it's age discrimination. The U.S. has made great strides in ending discrimination over the years. Age discrimination is prohibited in employment practices and other things, why would we want to take a step backwards and allow it in organ transplants ? Furthermore, there's no guarantee that a younger person would get more "mileage" out of the donated heart than Cheney. Transplants can be delicate and tricky. Great strides have been made in transplant medicine, but sometimes patients still die shortly after transplant. In fact, the latest statistics show that only 3 out of every 4 heart recipients reach their 5-year transplant anniversary. There are no guarantees. Personally, I think the odds are good that Cheney will get several good years out of his new heart. As a former Vice-President, you know he's gonna get some of the best medical care in the country. In addition, someone else might not have taken care of themselves and the new heart not last as long as with Cheney. Who knows ?

Another point that has been ingrained in this whole age issue is the fact that some believe that a younger person's life is more valuable than that of someone older. It's an idea that has been around for years and years that in my opinion is immoral. All life is extremely valuable. None is more valuable than any other. How do you even value a person's life anyway ? What amount of money does is take to bring someone back from the dead ? Give me a number. C'mon. Try. The fact is you can't put a price on human life. It's priceless. No amount of money can create it, and no amount of money can save it. The other question I'd ask these folks is, what if Cheney were your father or grandfather ? You'd want him to receive that new heart then. Wouldn't ya ?

The third point / question that has been asked and discussed is whether or not Cheney received special consideration because of his wealth and who he is. The answer is a resounding, "NO !" Think about it for a moment. It's simple. If wealth, power, and position had much influence on whether a person receives an organ transplant or not, do you really think Cheney would have waited nearly two years for a life-saving heart transplant ? The answer is no. If wealth and position was a large contributing factor to who does or does not receive an organ transplant, Cheney would have received one very shortly after he was listed. Furthermore, I'd be dead because I wouldn't have received my transplant due to having no wealth or powerful position. C'mon man. Don't be a knucklehead - it's just common sense.

There is a simple solution to all the questions and discussion about whether V-P Cheney should have received a heart transplant. The questions only exist because donated organs are scarce. If all Americans would register as organ and tissue donors, not only would Americans stop dying while on the waiting list, but we would have enough donated organs and tissues to go around, and it wouldn't matter if you were 71 or 21, the donor organ you needed would be available when you needed it.

So, the next time you hear someone talking about Cheney's heart transplant and whether an "old man" should receive one, ask them this, "Are you registered as an organ and tissue donor ?" If they say yes, thank them for doing so. However, if they say no, then tell them it's like voting - if you don't do it, then you have no right to complain. If everyone would register, more lives would be saved, and we wouldn't have to have the discussion about who should or shouldn't get a transplant.

In the meantime, keep V-P Cheney, his family, and his donor family in your prayers. They've all got a long road ahead of them.
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