Marie met Arnold about three years ago, just a few years after he moved to Maine from Colorado. They met on a blind date, the kind where one thing leads to another and soon they were celebrating what they called their “international marriage,” she being from Canada and he from the U.S. “He was bigger than life, over six feet tall with a full handlebar moustache that was his trademark – full of fun, happy-go-lucky, always laughing,” she said. “He had an amazing mind for details. A friend had mentioned in passing that a neat dollar coin she’d had was accidentally spent. So Arnie found the coin – a few of them, actually, from a few years in a row – and gave them to her.” This spirit of generosity, of connecting with the people around him, permeated his life and included his decision to sign up on the donor registry.
As a long-haul truck driver, Arnold traveled the United States for work and had been to every state except Alaska, either by truck or vacationing. Marie got the call one day from St. John’s Hospital in Springfield, Illinois and learned that Arnold had passed away from a heart attack while making a delivery there. She notified her family and soon received a call from the procurement agencies asking if Arnold wanted to be a donor. “Following through with his wish to be a donor was never a hesitation in my shock and grief,” she said. Marie has said that a lot of the circumstances following Arnold’s death have seemed “meant to be.” She knew that he had signed up on the donor registry and that he meant to generously give of himself to others when he died. Through Heartland Lions Eye Banks and Gift of Hope, the organ procurement organization serving the northern threefourths of Illinois, Arnold was able to donate his corneas, bones from his legs and arms, and skin tissue. His mother had been severely burned as a child on her chest, so his donation of skin tissue was meaningful because he will get to help someone else who has suffered from a burn.
One of Arnold’s corneas was given to a person in Argentina, which Marie appreciated because it reminded her of their international marriage, but Arnold’s corneal donation to a recipient in the Kansas City area has held even greater significance for Marie. She went to the post office one day to pick up her mail and received a card from the recipient. The woman had suffered from Fuchs’ dystrophy, a hereditary disease that causes a disintegration of the interior of the cornea, and had to use binoculars just to watch her grandsons play football. But now her sight is bright and clear and “pure happiness” overcomes her. “After I opened the letter, I sobbed in my car outside the post office,” Marie said. “When Arnie and I got married, I had children and grandchildren, but he didn’t. He delighted in being their dad and grandfather. It was great that she could see her grandchildren play sports.” That Arnold had a love for all sports – he was an avid men’s league fast-pitch softball player – contributed to the letter’s power. Connections like these have come forth since Arnold’s donation and given the loss of him a meaningfulness that is comforting to Marie. “To know that this gift has brought bright and clear vision and a sense of pure happiness to another human has made me smile from the inside out,” she said.
After receiving the letter, Marie called her friends and family to tell them about it. She posted it on Facebook, telling people to sign up for the donor registry and speak with their families about their wishes. She now actively promotes donation in her community and shares her story and the cornea recipient’s words. “I have my donor card signed, too, but it’s something I did and never thought about again until I had to go through it,” Marie said. “But now I know it makes a difference. It isn’t just something you do – it’s life-changing for the recipients and the people who are left behind. Science gives us the technology to make these gifts happen, but without people giving so unselfishly, we could not bring about the life-changing results I have witnessed firsthand.”
You can join Marie in signing up for your state’s donor registry by visiting Donate Life America or your local Department of Motor Vehicles office.