When I was growing up organ donation and transplantation was not something we talked about in my family. We weren’t being callous, but we didn’t know anyone on the waiting list, and we didn’t know anyone who had saved lives through their donation decision before they had passed away. Abstractly I knew there were waiting lists, and people waiting for that life-saving phone call, but to me this was something that happened to other people, something I saw in hospital dramas on TV.
As an adult this still wasn’t a subject I thought much about. I’ve been involved with helping raise funds for cancer charities, and I’ve been involved in fund-raising activities for the ALS association, and for Indy Humane society. With the platform that comes with being a driver at the Indianapolis 500, I’ve always tried to find ways to use that platform to reach beyond a racing car, and get involved with causes that mean something personal to me.
However, 18 months ago, in August of 2016, my friend and team-mate Bryan Clauson passed away from injuries sustained in an accident at the Belleville Midget Nationals in Kansas. Bryan became the second person I knew in a 12-month period to save lives as an organ donor, and as I dealt with the grief, I knew it was time.
That fall I talked to my husband, made my donation decision, made sure the heart was on my Indiana driver’s license, and registered nationally online. Even though I knew the time was right, it was still a very difficult conversation to have. No one likes to address their own mortality, and I compete in a dangerous sport, and no one likes to address the mortality of their loved ones – I don’t want to think about something happening to my husband. At the same time, this is such an important conversation to have ahead of time, otherwise your family may only learn about your decision at the worst possible time.
At a time of tragedy, organ, eye and tissue donation and transplantation can bring hope, healing and life to others, and last May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, I met Dan Alexander, the recipient of Bryan’s heart. He was there with Bryan’s family, and watched me race from our suite with them on Indy 500 race day.
This May, with the support of netlogx and my other sponsors and partners, I attempted to qualify for my 7th Indy 500 driving a Donate Life car at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I drove in honor of my friend, and to encourage those who see my car, and read my story, to make their donation decision and talk to their families.
Here in Indianapolis, Donate Life Indiana and I will also be visiting schools, and talking to teens, and working with the BMV. We want to connect to teens, so that they think about this issue, speak to their families, and feel empowered to make their donation decision when they sign up for their drivers’ license.
I know from first-hand experience that this isn’t something that all families think about, but through our education program with Donate Life Indiana, we’re hoping to reach more teens, and save more lives than ever before.
To learn more about organ, eye, and tissue donation and transplantation, please visit www.donatelifeindiana.org.