I recently had the opportunity to talk to Duncan McLindon, father of Tabitha McLindon and founder of Tabitha’s Wish. In April of 2011, 12 year old Tabitha McLindon wanted to help her mother win a contest that was being held by the bank, so she wanted to open a checking account. To do so, she needed a Louisiana state ID. Though it was an ID for a 12 year old girl, they asked her if she would like to be an organ donor, and she replied “Yes.” According to Duncan, Tabitha’s father, Tabitha overheard the same question asked a man in a nearby booth, but his answer was that no, he did not want to donate his organs when he died. Though only 12 years old, Tabitha was confused by this, and even asked her mother on their way home why the man would have said no to donating his organs. “That shows that she knew what she was saying yes to, and not just saying it to get the process over,” says Duncan.
At this point Tabitha had never been sick, with the exception of cold, a day in her life so the last thing that anyone was thinking about was the fact that Tabitha had said yes to being an organ donor. However, this would soon change. One week to the day later, Tabitha’s best friend was having a birthday party. Duncan got a call that Tabitha had fallen and it had taken awhile for her to get back up. Duncan asked if she wanted to come home and when Tabitha said yes, Duncan headed to the skating rink to pick her up. While Duncan was on the way, he got another call saying Tabitha had a seizure and they were taking her to the hospital.
Thinking it was due to the fall, Duncan was glad when he heard that they were transferring Tabitha to a hospital with a neurologist. As soon as Duncan walked into the hospital however he was walked into a room and told that the seizure has nothing to do with the fall. It turned out that Tabitha had a rare rheumatoid type virus which had settled in the base of her brain. The fall had occurred because two blood vessels in the base of her brain had burst. After being told this, Duncan was told she might not make it.
A few days later on April 18, 2011 Tabitha passed away. That was when Tabitha’s parents would’ve been faced with the question if they should donate her organs but Tabitha has already made that decision for them. Because Tabitha had never been sick and she had not experienced any type of severe trauma, she was able to donate all of her organs and save seven people. “The normal is 9, but they did a double lung and a liver kidney transplant,” Duncan said.
Duncan said the first year was the hardest of his life, but the one thing that helped him get through it, other than his son, was knowing that it was Tabitha’s wish to live on by donating her organs. Duncan told me during that first year that he told Tabitha’s story one person at a time to those that came through the offshore oil platform he worked on.
Then one day Duncan was on Facebook and saw he had a friend request from someone whose name he didn’t recognize. He looked at the profile and saw that he had two friends in common with the woman; his daughter Tabitha, whose profile is still active as a memorial, and a woman who works at the heliport he flies out of. “Those are two very separate worlds, so I thought I should send her a message.” Duncan did send the woman a message saying he wasn’t sure who she was, but that he saw they had friends in common. That was when the woman told him that she was the step-mother of the girl who had received Tabitha’s lungs. The two talked on Facebook and then on the phone, and Duncan says it felt like it was a sign.
In 2012, with the one year anniversary of Tabitha’s death coming up, Duncan felt inspired to share Tabitha’s story on a larger scale, and he contacted the local Fox affiliate about the story. You can see a video of the broadcast here. Duncan said that he had never met the girl before they met on camera just one week before the year anniversary of Tabitha’s death. “Meeting Crissi healed me somehow,” Duncan said and that is what led to the passion he says he now has for the work he does as a part of Tabitha’s Wish.
Here it is two weeks since the two year anniversary of Tabitha’s passing and Duncan’s cause has only grown since meeting Crissi a year ago. Duncan said that as a dedicated father no matter what his children were involved in he gave a 100%, and as Tabitha said how important organ donation was to her, he is continuing to do just that with Tabitha’s Wish.
The message that Duncan spreads connected to Tabitha’s Wish is twofold. First is education of the need to have a talk on the subject of organ donation. It is Duncan’s belief that parents need to have the talk about organ donation with their children. Duncan understands that there is an age that is too young, but also said “at 16 someone else will be having that talk” when they go to get their driver’s licenses. “Every parent should have the talk about being a donor; if child is too young then the parents need to talk about it between them.”
“When you find out a loved one is deceased, the first thing they ask is do you want to donate organs and you say no out of grief. A few days later, you realize the importance of sharing organs and you want to donate, but that door is closed and you have to live with that guilt. Maybe a few years later someone you love needs a transplant and realize how important that is, and you feel that guilt again.”
Along these lines Duncan has had many successes in his work. Duncan said this past Christmas the Tabitha’s Wish page on Facebook received a number of messages from Junior High aged children stating that what they wanted most for Christmas was to get their state ID so they could let it be known they were organ donors.
Duncan also has an upcoming meeting with a local school board where a child can decide to become a donor and have that shown on their school identification cards. “This opens that door for the talk with kids,” Duncan says, “they can make that choice and everyone will know what they want to happen as shown by a heart.”
Duncan wrote “I cannot put into words how that has helped with my hurt other than it was like a ton of bricks off my back.” This is what drives the second goal Duncan has for Tabitha’s Wish. Duncan wants for the families of donors and organ recipients to be able to meet each other if they so desire. Duncan understands that there may be reasons that people may not wish to meet or not be ready to meet, as was the case with another of the recipient’s of one of Tabitha’s organs who wrote to Duncan and said he wasn’t ready to meet him.
Duncan says that the problem is the way which it now works. When you donate organs, you can send a generic letter which is received by the recipients. The transplant center is able to decide if they send it or edit the letter as they see fit.
What Duncan envisions is akin to a dating site. Two people have numbers which are connected to the file and they are allowed to talk online, just as he and Crissi’s step-mom did through Facebook. Once the two have talked online if they feel comfortable and so desire, they then can meet. Duncan believes it is important to get the message out of how it can heal the family so that more recipients and donor families can meet.
Duncan doesn’t seek any donations and refuses to accept any that are offered. What he does ask is that if a person wishes to donate and help with Tabitha’s Wish that they do so by spreading the story and by becoming an organ donor.
Support Tabitha’s Wish by visiting their Facebook page @ https://www.facebook.com/TabithasWish
Written By Justin Nutt, LMSW
SJS Staff Writer