Twenty years ago, Diane Milbourne, of Schwenksville, PA, got a phone call that no wife ever wants to receive. Her husband, Ed, had been in a fatal car accident on the way to their house in the Poconos. Ed suffered severe head trauma and the family knew that there was no returning from this heartbreaking tragedy.
Diane and Ed were married for 25 years, and even two decades after her husband’s passing, her love for him is strong. “Ed was a great guy. Everyone loved him – his friends and his family. He loved nature and to be outside and hunt and fish.” Diane said. His favorite past time was being with his grandson, Erick, who he called ‘Bud.’ They had a special bond and he spent a lot of time with him.”
Ed was the type of person who cared about everyone and was compassionate to the core. His family knew that because of who Ed was, he’d want to be a donor and help others. When there was no longer hope to save Ed’s life, the Milbourne family made the decision to say “yes” to organ and tissue donation – saving the lives of three others.
Diane said, “Ed being a donor brings our family comfort. He didn’t just die, but he lives on in others and his beautiful spirit continues. Because of donation, I don’t feel like I have to mourn his death. I feel like I can celebrate the life that he’s given to others.”
Diane wrote to Ed’s recipients and never expected to hear back, especially two decades later. Then she made a connection that filled her with happiness. Ed’s kidney recipient, Dave Swick, of Easton, PA, starting communicating with her, and they met for the first time this year.
Dave said, “I can’t thank Diane and Ed enough. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be here. I always wanted to meet Diane from day one, but I didn’t know what to say. How do I thank someone for something so big? Now, we call and text each other – and reach out during the holidays.”
Dave was born with kidney disease, but was able to live a healthy and full childhood. It wasn’t until he got blood work done while in the military that his doctor became concerned with his kidney function. At 25, he was faced with the grim prospect of dialysis. He was listed for a kidney transplant and waited five, long years before Ed and his family gave him a second chance at life.
“Ed being a donor brings our family comfort. He didn’t just die, but he lives on in others and his beautiful spirit continues.” — Diane Milbourne
“During that time, I also suffered from congestive heart failure. I got through it because of the support of my family, and my daughter, Chyra, who was like a nurse for me. It got pretty bad at times. I was down to 130 pounds, my skin was grey and I had to stop working.” Dave said. He also has a son, David Jr., with his wife Lisa. Post-transplant, Dave felt an immediate difference. His energy increased and his skin regained a healthy color.
He reached a huge milestone this year when he turned 50. He is grateful every day for Ed’s gift, and has made the most of his restored health. “I have coached wrestling for 30 years. Now, I coach my nephew, Dylan, and my grandson, Jonathan, in midget wrestling. My wife and I have traveled the country over the past 20 years, and I haven’t had to worry about dialysis or not having energy. I have a new lease on life since my transplant, and I’ve celebrated my transplant day like a birthday.” said Dave. “I want to thank all donor families who say “yes” to donation. People don’t realize the quality of life that recipients can have.” he said.
“When we met, Dave reminded me so much of Ed.” said Diane. “He likes to hunt and fish and is close to his grandchildren. I was stuck in a dark place for a long time after Ed died. It’s comforting to see how healthy Dave is and to know that Ed lives on through him. It’s never too late to connect.”
As April’s National Donate Life Month comes to a close, it’s important to stress the life-saving impact that donors, like Ed, can have on so many lives. Gift of Life encourages everyone to register at donors1.org. Organ and tissue donors can save the lives of up to eight others through organ donation, and countless others through tissue donation.
Currently, more than 5,400 people are awaiting a second chance at life in Gift of Life’s region – the eastern half of PA, southern NJ and DE. Nationally, 118,000 are waiting. Registering as an organ and tissue donor is a heroic and selfless decision. It’s a choice that changes and saves lives, impacting not only the individual in need of a transplant, but their families and the community on a whole.
**As Diane said, “it’s never too late to connect.” If you are a donor family member wishing to reach out to your loved one’s recipients, learn how to get started. Similarly, we are happy to help transplant recipients who wish to write to his/her donor’s family.