Family’s loss teaches others to become organ donors |

Family’s loss teaches others to become organ donors

by John L. Smith

It’s hard to imagine a more appropriate location for an organ donor family appreciation ceremony than a place called Angel Park.

It was there on Nov. 18 that families traveling heart-wrenchingly divergent paths crossed for a while to commemorate and embrace the young lives that had been saved through organ donation. The evening was presented by the Nevada Donor Network, which sensitively brought the donor and recipient families together as a way of acknowledging the gift of life that had been given and received.

Despite frequent reminders in the media about the importance of organ donation, dire needs go unmet each day.

On any given day in America, 90,000 people wait for an organ donation, 70 receive a transplant, and 17 die because of a lack of availability, according to statistics provided by the Second Chance Foundation, a Las Vegas charity that assists Nevada transplant patients. Nearly 650 Nevadans are on an organ waiting list.

One organ and tissue donor can save up to eight lives and improve the lives of up to 70 more people.

In our region, more than 500 children wait for a call that might never come.

On one special night at Angel Park, joy and grief touched hands for a moment as families who had experienced so much came together for a short time. With such a delicate subject, it was understandable that most families would not want to speak about their loss. Thankfully, one mother did.

When their 7-year-old daughter, Debbie, suffered fatal injuries in a car accident, Dawn and Norm Blinder were overcome with their loss. But they also were faced with a question: Could they manage to set aside their grief long enough to make the decision to donate their daughter’s organs so that another child might live?

It was a difficult question at a horrible time in their lives. And it was complicated by the Blinders’ religious tradition.

“We had never thought about it before,” Dawn recalled. “The doctors approached us about it. We talked about it between my husband and I and some friends of ours, and even consulted a rabbi. But ultimately our decision was made because my daughter was a very giving person. And we said, if we had asked her, ‘Debbie, you can give your organs and save lives.’ She wouldn’t even hesitate to do that. She would say, ‘Absolutely, of course.’ That helped us make our decision. We said that’s what Debbie would want. We know that she would want to help other people.”

Debbie was just a child, but she already had devoted part of her young life to helping others through the Girls Scouts and several charities.

“If she knew she could help someone else, she would do that,” Dawn said. “To save a life, that’s the greatest gift.”

Because of the Blinders’ act of selflessness, a 7-year-old California boy received a heart transplant just in time. Two grown women – mothers, the Blinders were told – received live-saving kidney transplants and now will be able to care for their own families this holiday season.

There’s little question they’ll all be giving thanks to the little angel they never met but couldn’t live without.

Meanwhile, Nevada’s growing list of organ donors has allies in Dawn and Norm Blinder and dozens of other parents who have managed to set aside their terrible losses in an effort to grow good from bad.

“When I talk about Debbie, I say she was an organ donor and saved lives,” Dawn said. “I’ve had friends come up to me and, unbeknownst to me, they became organ donors because of what Debbie did. It was like a chain reaction. You know, paying it forward.

“Becoming an organ donor is probably something they’ve never thought about, but because it was brought to their attention, they did it. People live busy lives and they don’t take the time out to become an organ donor unless something happens that makes them look at it.”

It’s now been several years since Debbie Blinder’s death. The fact the child’s sweet spirit continues to have such a positive impact on the living is a sign that angels are very real, indeed.

Editor’s Note: Northern Nevadan’s are served by the California Transplant Donor Network in Oakland. Call them at (888) 570-9400 or visit online at: To register as an organ donor, go to or sign up in person at DMV or at For information on the need for donations nationwide, visit the United Network for Organ Sharing at The Second Chance Foundation, which serves all of Nevada, can be reached at (702) 369-5876.

• John L. Smith’s column appears Thursdays in the Nevada Appeal. E-mail him at or call 383-0295.