A couple whose two-year-old son died tragically at Walt Disney World nearly five years ago want more families to consider donating their children's organs if their child is ever facing death.
Matt and Melissa Graves created the Lane Thomas Foundation after their son was killed by an alligator in 2016.
The couple, from the US state of Nebraska, said they decided to focus on paediatric organ donation because they wanted to help other families fighting for their children's lives and they wanted to help kids because their son loved other children.
“Because we know the pain of losing a child, we wanted to focus on an issue where we believe we can help prevent other parents from knowing our pain," the couple said.
"We chose paediatric organ donation because we saw those families struggling with very limited resources to care for their children."
Boy attacked while playing on beach
Lane Thomas Graves was playing on a beach outside Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa in June 2016 when an alligator grabbed him and dragged him into the lake.
He was gathering sand for a sand castle when the alligator attacked. Mr Graves jumped into the water but was unable to rescue his son. Lane’s body was found 16 hours later.
Mr and Ms Graves say they want parents to talk about organ donation long before they ever face the unthinkable prospect of their child dying.
“No parent is prepared to lose a child ever. The loss is unbearable,” Mr Graves said.
“Organ donation may seem like a hard choice to make. … But people who donate their child’s organs are heroes.”
The Graves family's foundation is moving beyond the small-scale donations it has been making so far to families with children undergoing transplants in Omaha to raise awareness nationally about the need for paediatric organ donation.
They cite statistics saying that roughly 100 of the nearly 2,000 children on the US transplant waiting list die each year while waiting. Finding transplant organs for children is challenging because the pool of donors is so small.
“The real and ever-present issue the foundation is trying to address is ... the donor organ availability which is markedly limited,” University of Nebraska Medical Centre Chancellor Dr Jeffrey Gold, who serves on the foundation's board, said.
Plea for parents to consider organ donation
Even though the foundation is small, Dr Gold said he believes it can get more people to consider organ donation with its plan to tell the stories of parents who donated their child's organs and the families that received them.
“Anything that can be done to reduce time on these waiting lists for both adults and children will be lifesaving and produce a stress relief that is immeasurable,” Dr Gold said.
Since the foundation was created, it has helped pay travel and living expenses for nearly 100 families being treated in Omaha. That included donating about A$144,000 to 30 families in 2019, according to the foundation's tax forms.
Families of children getting transplants typically have to spend weeks or months in Omaha after an operation, and the long recovery time often forces one parent to take leave from their job or quit to be with the child.
“The Lane Thomas Foundation is amazing to help these families that are going through organ donation to not worry about financials. It should never be an issue when your child is on their deathbed. Never,” said Lauressa Gillock, who donated her daughter's organs after she died of brain cancer.
To find out more information about organ donation in Australia or to sign up as an organ donor visit DonateLife.
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