Why Organ Donation Is Important to Me: The Stories of Brad and Jack

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by Halsey Blocher |

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After moving into our new home a few months ago, members of our family made a trip to the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles to update our IDs with our new address. I had another mission to accomplish while there. I wanted to register as an organ donor.

I don’t remember when I decided that I wanted to become a donor, but I do know exactly why. It’s because of a remarkable friend of mine named Brad Dell.

Brad was born with cystic fibrosis, and by adulthood, his condition had progressed enough that he was in desperate need of a double-lung transplant. His case was so severe that many hospitals rejected it, but one transplant team in California decided to take a risk on him. A pair of donor lungs was located just in time, and Brad’s medical team completed the difficult but successful procedure.

That was five years ago, and today Brad is living life to the fullest with his new lungs. His list of accomplishments, world travels, and career advancements seems to grow longer by the day, and the number of lives he’s affected is countless. And even amid his busyness, Brad still finds time for quiet reflection and appreciation for the blessings and beauty that surround him in life.

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My path crossed Brad’s three years ago, when I accepted this job as a columnist for SMA News Today. Brad is the one who interviewed me, and he’s been my wise and gracious supervisor ever since. But to me, he’s become much more than just my boss. He’s also a fellow writer, a spiritual mentor, and one of my closest friends.

If Brad hadn’t gotten that lung transplant, he wouldn’t have survived this long, and I never would’ve met him. My life would be lacking the blessings I’ve gained from his friendship, and I wouldn’t even know it.

Brad’s donor gave him one of the most selfless gifts that a person can give, and Brad shares that gift in some way with everyone he meets.

As you might imagine, Brad was on my mind — along with the many other transplant recipients and family members I’ve met at BioNews, the publisher of this site — as I signed my donor registration.

Another person was present in my thoughts as I signed on the dotted line. That person is my friend Jack Freedman, who passed away in October at the age of 26.

organ donation | SMA News Today | photo of a young man, Jack Freedman, in a wheelchair in front of a broad fountain

Jack Freedman enjoys a fountain at one his favorite places, Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, in 2021. (Courtesy of Albert Freedman)

Jack and his family have been prominent members of the SMA community since Jack’s childhood, and his sudden death was hard for everyone who had the privilege of knowing him. He and his father, Dr. Albert Freedman, were instrumental in creating the metaphorical map that helps guide families through their SMA journeys, and Jack was a kindhearted friend to all.

Jack was always doing things for other people, from wishing every single one of his social media connections a happy birthday to testing Painted Waters, a video game designed to be accessible for children with disabilities.

Even in death, Jack selflessly chose to give of himself by donating his kidneys, which were both successfully transplanted.

In an email, I asked Freedman what his son’s organ donation meant to him.

“It means a lot to me to know that Jack has improved the lives of two other people who needed help,” he wrote. “It also means a lot to know that Jack’s kidneys are literally living inside two other people, who are carrying a part of Jack and his spirit along with them wherever they go.”

organ donation | SMA News Today | a photo of Jack, in his wheelchair, and his kneeling father beside him

Jack and his father, Albert Freedman, at Longwood Gardens in 2021. (Courtesy of Albert Freedman)

April is National Donate Life Month, and during this time I can’t help but reflect on the people in my life who have received that gift of life and those who have given it. I think of how their lives have been affected by organ donation, as well as the lives of the people around them. It’s not quantifiable, and it’s also indescribably beautiful.

When I asked Freedman what Jack might want to tell someone who’s considering becoming an organ donor, he wrote that he believes Jack would say, “I have needed a lot of help in my life, and others have helped me in so many ways. Being an organ donor may be a way that I can help someone else — and may be a way that you can help, too.”

There are still more people like Brad who urgently need donated organs, and we need people like Jack who will step up to help meet that demand. When I look at the lives and legacies of these two incredible young men, I do not doubt that I did the right thing in choosing to someday donate life. I sincerely hope you’ll consider joining me.


Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.

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