During this month of April, Donate Life Month, we hear many stories about the need for organ donations and the tremendous role they play in saving lives. As the lucky recipient of two transplanted organs in my life—a heart and a kidney—I believe that there’s a broader story to be told about the far-reaching impacts of organ donation.
I have come to understand that when you donate an organ, you are not just saving a life in that moment. You are making it possible for that person to live the life they envisioned for themselves, to make their contribution to the world. You are enabling that person to remain part of the lives of their family, friends, and others they have not yet met. You are actually touching the future.
In my case, organ donations helped make my childhood dream come true. When I was 10 years old, I entered the U.S. Navy’s Sea Cadets Corps, a program that lets young people experience the variety of roles available in the military, including in the medical field.
In the Cadets, I learned about how Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists, or “CRNAs,” performed a critical role delivering anesthesia during surgery. I set a goal at that young age that I would someday become a CRNA.
As my life unfolded, I joined the Navy and was deployed to the Persian Gulf right before 9-11. Surprisingly, when I returned to the U.S. in 2002 in a teaching role with the Navy, I failed my physical fitness test. I chalked it up to being out of shape, but it was a warning of trouble to come.
Doctors determined that a virus I contracted while deployed in Qatar had attacked and weakened my heart. In 2006, the Navy retired me as permanently disabled, and I received a life-saving heart transplant in 2007.
Once back in the civilian world, I thought again about that young boy’s dream. I moved my family to Arizona and started nursing school. After earning my bachelor’s degree in nursing, I accepted a position at Wolfson Children’s Hospital in Jacksonville in their pediatric intensive care unit. I often worked with children who needed transplants themselves and was glad to have the opportunity to ease their fears about the transplant process.
Meanwhile, that dream of becoming a CRNA was still alive inside. In 2016, I enrolled in the CRNA program at the University of North Florida, but once again, life had other plans. It turned out that I was experiencing a low heart rate and would need a pacemaker. On top of that, the heart medications I had taken over the years had damaged my kidneys.
I went into kidney failure in March 2017, took a leave of absence from CRNA school, and underwent dialysis for a year. My younger sister, Keri, generously stepped in to donate her right kidney in March 2018. Eight weeks after the transplant, I re-started school at UNF and graduated in 2020. I was finally a CRNA.
Now, I am literally living this dream I’ve had for 30 years. I provide anesthesia at Orange Park Medical Center for labor and delivery patients, as well as trauma patients needing surgery. I also continue to work at Wolfson with children needing surgery, including those with congenital heart disease. I am a lucky man with the coolest job I can imagine.
This life was made possible by my two organ donors. My heart came from 17-year-old Christopher Ramirez, who tragically lost his life when a hit-and-run driver forced his car off the road. I carry his picture in my wallet, and I share his name every time I speak to anyone about my experience. Christopher is a hero to my family. My sister is a hero, too. Keri got my life back on track and helped me achieve my dream.
I hope that when you consider the possibility of becoming an organ donor, you will remember that you can be a hero. You can change the course of someone’s life and leave your mark on the future.
Brian Frampton, DNP, CRNA, is a U.S. Navy veteran and a practicing Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist in the Jacksonville area. Views expressed are those of the author and not of the City & State Florida editorial staff.