Overdose victims donate more organs


The (Toledo) Blade

TOLEDO

It was the 2 a.m. phone call that every parent dreads.

“Brandon is in the hospital, and he’s really sick,” the nurse told Laurie Clemons, rousing her from sleep. “Don’t take time to shower. Just get dressed and come now.”

Brandon Morris, 30, died May 16, 2015, after a heroin overdose. It blindsided his family, who believed he was in recovery after a recent stint in rehab.

But from horror bloomed a small bud of hope – he was able to donate his liver and save another’s life.

His donation is one of a growing share of total organ donors in northwest Ohio to die as a result of a drug overdose. For one Toledo-area transplant organization, nearly one in five donors is now an overdose patient.

Life Connection of Ohio, a nonprofit that coordinates transplants and provides support for donor families in 25 western Ohio counties from Toledo to Dayton, has noted “record numbers of organ donors” in the past three years, said Matthew Dewey, director of recovery services.

The increase of total organ donors occurs at the same time the percentage of donors who die as result of a drug overdose also rises. In 2013, 3 percent of Life Connection’s donors died as a result of a drug overdose. In 2015, it was 19 percent. So far in 2016, it’s 18 percent.

Fatal overdoses from heroin and other opioids killed 2,590 Ohioans last year, including 113 in Lucas County, according to the Ohio Department of Health and the Lucas County coroner’s office.

For the Clemons family of Northwood, knowing a part of Brandon lives on brings some comfort.

“Out of our tragedy, it’s someone else’s miracle,” said John Clemons, Brandon’s stepfather.

Not being able to hug him was the hardest thing about saying good-bye, Mrs. Clemons said. He was hooked up to a tangle of tubes and wires, but they could run their fingers through his hair the same way they used to soothe him when he was a child and feeling sick.

It was hard to reconcile the otherwise healthy-looking young man, who returned from rehab back up to his normal weight, with the reality in front of them, she said.

“I just couldn’t believe him, healthy looking, lying there with a respirator,” she said.

A representative from Life Connection came to talk to the family about donation. Mrs. Clemons said she didn’t realize her son was eligible, even though he had indicated on his driver’s license he wanted to be a donor.

“I didn’t think someone who had an addiction could donate,” she said.

The decision was an easy one.

The doctor promised Mrs. Clemons he would take good care of her son. She watched them wheel Brandon down the hall to the elevator until the doors closed.

“And then I don’t see my boy anymore,” she said.

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