The son I have today exists as the confluence of machines and humans. Ten years earlier, the ECMO technologies and caregiver training wouldn’t have been in place to save him. In 2017, they were. He may not be attached to those devices any longer, but they resonate in him with every breath he takes. Most people who have gone through a major medical event understand that we emerge back into health connected to our caregivers and to the expansive web of lifesaving practices that make up modern medicine. My son is not a machine, but he is alive because of them.
When she was 4 years old, Portell received donated tissue to repair a faulty valve in her heart. She grew up aware of her heart condition, but not very engaged with her donor. He was a mysterious figure, rather abstract. As she grew up and became more involved in organ donation advocacy, she realized a hard moment was coming: “I knew that I would have to be ready to face the reality that there was a person on the other side whose life was cut short, who was meant for something more.”