My son has cadaver valves.
Not like a collection of them in an egg carton or in his dresser drawer.
He has them in his heart. Those, along with some bovine or "cow" tissues, and a synthetic conduit. Tyler's got it all going on. A man of many tissues, I call him.
He was born with a condition called transposition of the great vessels, as well as some other significant cardiac anomalies.
He's had major reconstructive surgery and a number of procedures and he is a strong, fit 18-year-old guy. He is a certified lifeguard and can swing an ax to chop wood, kayak choppy waters and carry a heavy load 'til the cows come home (pardon the bovine reference).
So it came as quite a blow a couple of years ago when, at a cardiac check-up, his doctor told us we should plan long term for a heart transplant.
Up until then, a team of doctors had always been able to figure out a way to repair or replace things — patch a hole, replace a valve, widen a narrowing vessel with a balloon catheter.
But as the years pass, the overall function of his left ventricle is simply declining. His cardiologist says medication should manage the issue for a while, but as the situation deteriorates, transplant will become the only option.
Tyler is aware of the impending ordeal, but as a dynamic, active high school senior, he doesn't think much about it on a day-to-day basis. Neither do I.
A recent tragedy involving the death of his teenage friend brought Tyler — and me — face to face with the reality of it all. It was a Sunday afternoon when we learned that Tyler's classmate, Quinn, had been in a serious car accident the night before. By the time we heard, Quinn was brain dead.
Their biomedical science class had just learned about organ donation the month before. Quinn had been adamant that when he died, he wanted to be a donor. Little did anyone imagine he would have the opportunity so soon.
Seeing Quinn on life support in the hospital room as medical staff arranged to harvest his organs and transport them to save someone else's life was jarring and horrifying.
It was heartrending to see Quinn's family as they withstood the agonizing hours until the process. Contemplating strangers in unknown places who would receive another chance at life thanks to Quinn's organs was stunning.
I was stricken on a visceral level as the blood of Quinn was removed and passed on to other people in a generous and laudable last deed, knowing that it might one day be my son on the receiving end of such a gut-wrenching heartbreak.
Quinn's organs saved the lives of three women. I've examined the whole idea of organ donation with renewed curiosity and zeal, and pondered issues of faith, death and life.
I've thought more and more about the individuals whose valves help pump blood through Tyler's veins, and the one whose heart might one day beat for him.
I am grateful for the organ donation process and so thankful to those who donate.
Many people will be spring cleaning and donating clothes, toys or housewares this month. I hope as many will at least consider becoming an organ donor. Its value is immeasurable.
For more information about organ donation, visit OrganDonor.gov. and DonateLife.net.
Alicia Notarianni is a reporter and feature writer for The Herald-Mail. Her email address is email@example.com.