Organ donation helps family deal with loss of husband, dad

It was like some atmospheric flash during a thunderstorm.

A random event. Sudden. Frightening.


A neurologist told Terri Adamson that the odds of what happened to her husband on Memorial Day -- one day before his 47th birthday -- were about the same as a person being struck by lightning.

Tests confirmed a brainstem stroke, the worst kind of news.

The event left her spouse, physically active and seemingly healthy, in a coma, damaged beyond repair.

His kind blue eyes were vacant, the pupils "blown," fixed and dilated.

Four days later, Roger Adamson lay in an operating room at Methodist Dallas Medical Center. His wife and children quietly entered the sterile environment. Emotionally spent, hollow with grief, this stricken family huddled in reverence at the head of the operating table and waited.

Their loved one had just been taken off life support.

It was 3:45 p.m. June 4.

Terri gazed lovingly into the face of the man she had met in college and married 25 years ago. They had started a family, first Lara, now 23 and a mom herself, and then son Jordan, 17.

Terri Adamson began to pray aloud.

"Please, God, make it fast," she whispered.

Between pleas, her tear-bright gaze fixed anxiously on the vital-signs monitor.

Within minutes, as expected, her husband's heart rate slowed.

His blood pressure began to ebb.

Terri's pastor stood behind her as the end mercifully neared.

She can still hear it, the cadence and spiritual message in his reassuring words.

"To be absent from the body," Nelson Coffman said softly, over and over, "is to be with the Lord."

At 4:01 p.m. their prayers were answered.

Adamson's heart stopped beating. Once his death was formally pronounced, a team of surgeons entered the operating room and began its work.

Time was of the essence.

After saying goodbye, Terri found comfort in the arms of waiting family members and close friends. She also felt a consoling peace wash over her as she considered her decision to sign a one-page legal form that read:

I, Terri Adamson ... do hereby consent that there may be recovered from the body of Roger Mark Adamson the following:

Heart/aorta. Lungs. Liver. Kidneys. Pancreas. Small bowel.

She circled yes to each.

Whole eyes. Corneas. Arteries and veins. Skin. Bones. Pericardium. Peripheral nerves.

Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

It seemed appropriate, she said -- "so right," an act faithful to the character and spirit of a good man. A charitable man. A family man.

"I know Roger is happy and proud," his wife said of his gifts.

"Just knowing he could help others. He didn't suffer. In any way. He is in heaven. All our family wanted to do, in every decision we made, was to honor him."

By the numbers

More than 108,000 people nationally and 10,000 in Texas are awaiting organ transplants.

The good news: At least 30,000 patients a year receive the organs they need.

Sadly, about 18 a day die waiting for lifesaving transplants.

Even if everyone who could donate did so, the need for organs wouldn't be met, said Pam Silvestri, public affairs director of Southwest Transplant Alliance, one of three organ and tissue procurement organizations in Texas.

Southwest Transplant Alliance serves the Dallas area. LifeGift serves Tarrant and more than 100 other counties. The third agency is Texas Organ Sharing Alliance.

Public opinion polls indicate that 80 percent of people are aware of organ donation and would be willing to donate -- but that many don't take the time to register.

In the past, signing a donor card and placing a sticker on your driver's license served as a symbol of intent. But it did not place you on an official list or registry. In 2006, the Texas Legislature mandated the creation of a statewide organ, tissue and eye donor registry.

Roger and Terri Adamson had only briefly discussed organ donation, about six months ago after the death of Roger's father.

"I don't think Roger wanted to have that conversation," Terri recalled. " Nobody really does. But I needed to. I was adamant about it."

As her husband lay in the hospital, no one broached the subject. She made a decision -- confident it was the right one -- and took the first step by visiting on her computer.

Fateful day

On the morning of Memorial Day, Terri was talking on the phone with her daughter.

Her cellphone beeped, indicating an incoming call.

It was Roger's number.

Oh, no, she thought, I forgot to text him the grocery list.

Her husband had gone to play handball with friends at the YMCA in Waxahachie. Afterward, Roger was expected to stop at the store and buy hamburger fixings. The Adamsons planned a family day at their Midlothian home, a handsome new craftsman-style residence that the couple had designed together.

Their "Grandma-Grandpa house," they called the labor of love.

Terri took the call.

The voice on the line wasn't her husband.

Doug Day, a friend, told Terri that Roger had collapsed on the handball court. He speculated that Adamson was suffering from seizures. In and out of consciousness, Roger complained that he couldn't see and had difficulty breathing, Day said.

Terri grew panicky after she and her children arrived at Methodist hospital.

Roger was in the critical care unit. Unconscious. On a ventilator.

Next day -- Roger's birthday -- the family learned that he had suffered a stroke that caused severe and irreversible brain damage. Even if he survived, which they were told was unlikely, he would remain in a vegetative state.

Terri saw her husband.

"I knew he was already gone," she said. "We were going to be making some big decisions, very quickly. But I couldn't, not right then. I remember thinking, 'We can't do this on his birthday.'"

The decision

Toni Portwood is a family service coordinator with Southwest Transplant Alliance.

She met with the Adamsons at the hospital.

"We try to take care of every family," Portwood said. "Not everyone wants a lot of attention. I felt like Terri needed as much support as I could give her."

Portwood reinforced the Adamsons' decision to have Roger's organs donated. Afterward she visited the family at their home and presented Terri with a heart-shaped box containing locks of Roger's hair and a poem titled My Final Gift.

It is now time for me to move on

Into the dusk, but also the dawn

I will remain as the morning comes,

As I have left behind a gift for someone.

So another may walk, may talk, may see

Where something in their life was locked, I offered them a key.

I am a donor, giving to someone in need

My final gift, my final deed.

Portwood also attended Roger's memorial service at the First Baptist Church in Midlothian. Lara read a passage from Scripture and Jordan paid a moving tribute to his dad. The band director at Walnut Grove Middle School, where Terri serves as librarian, ended the service with a saxophone solo of Amazing Grace.

Planting new lives

Terri Adamson opened her laptop.

"I want you to see this," she told a visitor.

After her husband's death, she received an outpouring of support, phone calls and cards, and dozens of messages, including a Facebook entry from a woman with whom she once taught school:

"I just wanted to drop you a note and let you know you and your family have been in my thoughts and prayers. What a blessing you are to others.

"As I was driving to a band meeting tonight with one of my friends, she began to tell me about her sister who had gotten her kidney transplant on Saturday. She said it was donated by a 47-year-old man. As she was telling me this story I just knew ..."

Terri Adamson paused while reading the message aloud.

"Roger's kidney was transplanted that Saturday," she said. "I know that one cornea went to a 77-year-old man. The other went to a 67-year-old female."

Terri looked around her home -- their dream home -- filled with family photos and memories, and the blessings of a new life.

Lara held her daughter, 10-month-old Allie.

"The apple of Roger's eye," Terri said.

She smiled, perhaps at some private thought, and shared what was in her heart.

"If I hadn't made that decision, I think it would have been the biggest regret of my life. Roger has been able to take one person off dialysis and given two other people sight.

"He did that," Terri said.

"It's a huge part of our healing."

DAVID CASSTEVENS, 817-390-7436