Every year since 2004 I have been telling people the story of a man known as the “Heart Man”. It occurred to me that the story is getting old now, and that maybe I should write about something else this Valentines Day. But I can’t let go of the Heart Man’s story. Sorry, I just can’t.
So I decided to take a slightly different approach this year. Instead of telling you about how the Heart Man, Cliff Steer, was one of the longest living heart transplant patients in the US; instead of telling you about how he spent some 18 years of his “new” life visiting schools around San Jose (CA), carrying his old heart with him and telling his story of how bad choices relating to smoking and alcohol had poisoned his body and crippled that old heart; instead of that, I thought I’d issue everyone who reads this a challenge.
Ready? Here’s the challenge: Become someone’s hero this Valentine’s Day (or any day!)
Relay your wish to be a donor this Valentines Day
If you haven’t already done so, sit down with your family and tell them that it is your wish to be an organ donor. I know, I know…you say you’ve filled out the donor card already. But if you haven’t sat down and told your family, your wishes might not be honored in that awful moment in the future when your grieving family needs to relay that possibly split-second decision.
If you haven’t already registered, go to, organdonor.gov. You’ll be taken to your particular state’s website for easy registration, it is very simple to do, so do it now (this website also has a lot of helpful information on it). You can also sign up when you renew your driver’s license and in most states you will get some kind of designation on your driver’s license itself, such as a dot or a heart, that indicates you are a donor.
Don’t wait until you are dead to save a life: become someone’s hero today
Second, save lives while you are alive and give blood. Every 2 seconds, someone in the United States needs blood, either because of an accident, surgery, disease or in the aftermath of a natural disaster. Did you know that just giving blood once can make you three people’s hero, as one blood donation can be used for saving up to 3 lives. The Red Cross (which provides about 40% of the nation’s blood) has estimated that only about 3% of age-eligible people donate blood yearly!
Go to redcross.org/give-blood to find out how and where to give blood. And don’t just do it once. You can technically donate your blood every 2 months if eligible (there is a longer time required between donations for platelet donations). You likely have other local options to give blood as well, such as hospitals and local events (often sponsored by schools and local businesses…maybe YOU can work with your company or school to organize a blood drive yourself…there is info on the site relating to how this works). The Red Cross offers a texting service at redcrossblood.org/texting; you can sign up and receive info about local events happening in your vicinity.
Remember the Heart Man and his hero, a 23 year old accident victim
Third, tell your kids the Heart Man’s story. I remember hearing it over a decade ago when he came to my 3rd grade son’s class. Tens of thousands of young adults heard his story. They heard him talk about how he had made poor choices in his youth. Poor choices about who he hung out with, what he put into his body. About how smoking and alcohol had killed his heart, almost killing him. He would stand there, in front of his young audiences, holding his heart. Yes, holding his original, diseased heart. He’d show them exactly what his poor choices had done to his heart, and why it had almost killed him.
At every presentation he would also talk about HIS own hero, the donor who had made Cliff’s continued life possible. 18 additional years to live. 18 additional years to make better choices and to influence the choices of others.
At Cliff’s memorial service so long ago, I remember seeing how much he had meant to so many people. He had lived long enough for he and his wife Jean to have four children, nine grandchildren and countless good friends, all of whom had clearly been blessed by Cliff being a part of their life.
Without his heart donor, Cliff might not have had those additional years of life to make such a difference in so many lives even beyond his family. Thousands of kids and teens throughout the world might not have heard his story and message, either through his live presentations or through his video (which he had made of his presentation and had sent out to schools and organizations all over the world, for free).
I remember that at the memorial service, Cliff’s unidentified donor – a 23 year old accident victim and Cliff’s lifesaving hero – was publicly thanked. I wish that individual’s family could have attended the service and seen what wonder had come out of the unselfish act of organ donation by their family member.
Jean Steer, Cliff’s wife, was a 3rd grade teacher in San Jose for many years. Even after his death in 2003 she continued with her husband’s mission each Valentines Day, taking his heart and his message to a new crop of young minds at local schools.
February 14 is National Donor Day and April is National Donate Life Month. Almost 113,000 men, women and children currently await life-saving transplants and every 10 minutes another name is added to this list. Minorities account for nearly half of the list. An average of 20 people dies each day from the lack of available organs for transplants.
According to the Donate Life America website, “95% of Americans are in favor of being an organ donor, but only 60% are registered.”
Take a moment and become someone’s hero this Valentines Day. Give blood and become a donor. And tell your family about your wishes, and suggest that they, too, become donors. Imagine how you’d feel if someone is your family needed an organ and it wasn’t available.
Do it because it is the right choice.
Do it for the Heart Man.
Do it to become a hero this Valentines Day.
(you can read more about The Heart Man in this article…)