Published: 3:59 pm, Sun. Feb. 18th, 2018Updated: 3:55 pm
On Oct. 21, 2015, Jamie Johnson got a second chance at life.
Johnson, longtime records clerk at the Artesia Police Department, had heart trouble. A defibrillator had been installed, but that fall, it began shocking her frequently – eventually, nonstop.
Aside from the pain involved, her heart was being damaged. It endured further harm once she arrived in Austin, Texas, for emergency treatment. Johnson was forced to undergo multiple ablations as her doctor searched desperately for the cause of the malfunction. At one point, her heart stopped, and electrical cardioversion was used to restart it.
After attempting more than 40 ablations, Johnson’s doctor informed her sister he was going to try one last time. Moments later, he located the problem area.
The damage, however, had been done. Johnson was told she would need a transplant.
“It’s a hard decision to make,” she said. “I told everybody, ‘I am not doing a heart transplant. I’m not doing it.’ Then when it was down to that’s your only option… I looked at both my kids, and they’re looking at me like, ‘Really? You have to think about it?’ And I thought, ‘I can do it now. Even if it just gives me five or six more years, I can do it.’”
In late October, around one month after Johnson was placed on the donor list, a 39-year-old woman died in Delaware. She had been on dialysis for two weeks prior, and the heart was termed by doctors to be “high-risk.” But it was available.
“I asked the doctor, ‘Would you put it in your mother?’” Johnson said. “And he said, ‘Yes, I would. It’s a viable heart.’ And it’s been a good heart. I feel wonderful.”
A “good heart” means more to Johnson than just the medical benefit, however. A kind heart, a conscientious heart, is what her donor – a mother of three – had to have to check that box on her driver’s license.
“The donors need to be acknowledged,” Johnson said. “The people who get the hearts, the kidneys, livers, lungs – we wouldn’t be here without the donors.”
Johnson said she feels fortunate to have received a transplant organ so quickly. “Special,” as her doctor called her when informing her only around 2,100 hearts are available each year in the U.S., with 5 million people waiting.
Stunned, Johnson asked how that number could be so low.
“Because people aren’t organ donors,” he told her.
Johnson said she understands the reluctance. Some people don’t register as donors for religious reasons. Some express discomfort with the thought of not being “whole” when they’re laid to rest. If a decision has not been made clear, it becomes the family’s to make, and many don’t feel as if they can.
“That’s a hard decision to make, too, but just look at it like, ‘Well, what am I going to do with it?’” Johnson said. “If you can help just one person… it’s the gift of life. None of us want to lose our loved ones and then have to give up their organs, but seeing what it’s done for me, I would not have a problem saying, ‘Yes, take what you can.’ The body’s just a shell at that point.”
Johnson said she’s already seen her experience making an impact on family and friends.
“I think it encourages people,” she said. “My nephew did not want to be an organ donor, but he changed his mind when he saw that it saved my life and became one.”
Since her transplant, Johnson has exchanged letters with the sister of her donor, who was battling breast cancer during the time of her sibling’s death. She is now a survivor, caring for her sister’s children. She was touched to connect with the recipient of the heart, writing to Johnson, “I am so proud to say you are a part of our family.”
“It’s a God thing,” Johnson said. “All of it’s been a God thing.”
Valentine’s Day is also National Donor Day, and over the next few weeks, the APD will be celebrating the miracle that happened to one of their own as well as encouraging others to consider becoming donors by displaying donor awareness magnets on their patrol vehicles.
As the year continues, the department will change out the magnets to draw attention to other causes, such as breast cancer and National Law Enforcement Week.
“We appreciate the support that we get from all citizens,” said Cmdr. Lindell Smith of the APD. “There is a new initiative to bring to light some of the social, medical, and other types of issues people face these days. As we go throughout the rest of the year, we will display magnets on the sides of our patrol cars that speak of these things.”
The magnets were donated to the PD by HollyFrontier.
“It is our honor to partner with the Artesia Police Department to help bring awareness to the community and show our support of their efforts,” said Debbie Bell, community affairs coordinator with HollyFrontier. “Having all 23 police units sporting the magnets throughout the year certainly makes a statement, and we are thrilled we were able to help their vision come to life.”
Johnson is happy to see additional awareness for organ donation being raised and hopes it prompts others to consider the impact they could have on the life of another.
“I have two grandbabies now, and I’m fixing to have two more,” she said. “It’s an incredible gift.”