95-year-old Becomes Oldest Organ Donor in US History

Cecil Lockhart was a 95-year-old veteran from West Virginia. He worked in the West Virginia coal mines for more than 50 years, and also served as a corporal in the United States Army during World War II. He was married to his wife, Helen, for 75 years and had a daughter, two sons, three grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren.

Cecil made history recently when he became the oldest organ donor on record in the United States, according to The Center for Organ Recovery & Education (CORE). When he died on May 4, his liver was recovered and donated to a woman in her 60s, who seems to be doing well!

When asked about his decision to donate his organs, Lockhart’s daughter Sharon White said in a statement, “(h)e was a generous person when he was alive, and we are filled with pride and hope knowing that, even after a long, happy life, he is able to continue that legacy of generosity.”

Lockhart’s son-in-law, Bill Davis, told CNN that Lockhart was a giving individual throughout his life. “Anything he could do to help people he did. And this is just a way he’s continuing to help people after his time on Earth is finished,” Davis said. “If we could all be that way, I think the world would be a little bit better place for us to be in.”

Lockhart Was Inspired to Donate His Organs After His Son’s Organs Helped Save 75 People

Lockhart was inspired to become an organ donor upon the death of his son Stanley in 2010. When Stanley died, he donated tissue that healed the lives of 75 people, and helped restore sight to two people by donating his cornea. “When my brother was a donor after he passed away a few years ago, it helped my dad to heal,” said Sharon White. “Today, knowing his life is continuing through others really is helping us through our grief too.”

At Lockhart’s funeral, his family asked everyone to register as an organ donor to honor his memory. Some people indicated to Lockhart’s son that they would answer that call, inspired by Lockhart’s ability to save a life at age 95.

No One is Ever Too Old or Too Young to Give the Gift of Life

While Lockhart is the oldest person on record to donate an organ, the first instance of someone above the age of 90 donating happened in 2001, and since then, 17 nonagenarians have donated organs. Other older Americans have followed suit. More than 30% of all deceased organ donors in the United States since 1988 have been age 50 or older, and it’s a trend that’s rising. So far in 2021, 39% of all U.S. deceased organ donors have been age 50 or older — up more than 8% from 20 years ago.

While many people believe there is an age limit associated with being an organ donor, UNOS chief medical officer David Klassen said no one is too old or too young to donate. “Every potential donor is evaluated on a case-by-case basis at the time of their death to determine which organs and tissue are suitable for donation,” Klassen said. “Cecil’s generous and historic gift is a perfect example of that.”

Organ Donations Are Needed

According to CORE, someone is added to the national transplant waiting list every 10 minutes, and more than 107,000 people in the U.S. are currently awaiting a life-saving organ transplant. And, as of February, 17 people die each day waiting for a transplant, according to organdonor.gov. The nonprofit said that one person alone can save the lives of up to eight people by donating organs, and can improve the lives of 75 people through tissue donation.

A CORE spokeswoman said that while Lockhart was not registered as an organ donor, he was able to donate his liver because he had discussed his wishes with his family and documented them in his advanced medical directive. CORE encourages people to talk about donating their organs with loved ones, include their decision in their incapacity planning documents, and register as a donor to ensure they are able to make that impact.

Talking to Your Family About Organ, Tissue, and Eye Donation

It can be very difficult for a family experiencing a tragic loss to make a decision about donation. If they’ve never talked about it, or their loved one didn’t join an Organ Donor Registry or document their decision in their incapacity planning documents, families are left wondering what to do.

Although talking about death can be uncomfortable, if we want to talk about organ and tissue donation, it’s important to have a conversation with loved ones and include your decision in your documents. Rest assured that according to research, 9 out of 10 families support organ donation going ahead when they know it’s what their loved one would have wanted.

So, what’s the best way to talk about organ, tissue, and eye donation with family and friends? The answer may vary, of course, based on the opinions, thoughts, traditions, beliefs and relationships of those you’re engaging.

Here are some general guidelines:

  1. Start with what inspired you to talk about it – did you read an article or a post on social media, hear a story on the radio or on the news? Tell them about what you learned and how you feel about it.
  • Here are some ideas on how to approach the conversation using common situations:
    • I just went to the doctor and I need to talk to you about what I would want if something were to happen to me.
    • After watching that movie and seeing what a beautiful memorial they had, I really want to talk to you about what I would want.
    • Did you know that one person can save eight lives as an organ donor? What do you think about being a donor?
    • Have you gone to the DMV recently? I saw the question they asked about being and organ or tissue donor and I wanted to talk to you about my decision.
    • I know you don’t want to think about anything happening to me, but I feel like it is important for you to know what I would want if I wasn’t here to make these decisions.
  1. Listen to their response. Do they have concerns about the donation process? Are there questions that you can research for them? Let them know you appreciate their concerns and will look for some answers.
  2. Be compassionate. Pause for deep breaths if needed. Acknowledge that this may be an uncomfortable topic. You’re helping them to know your decision in advance, so there’s no question about your wishes later.

Whether you’ve joined the state donor registry or not, talking to your family about organ, tissue, and eye donation provides them with the gift of knowing. Talk to your family. Let them know your wishes and ask them about theirs. Then, make an appointment to document those wishes so you have the peace of mind that they will be followed.

To register to donate your organs in Virginia, click here.

To register to donate your organs in Maryland, click here.

To register to donate your organs in DC, click here.

An Important Reason to Document Your Decision in an Advance Medical Directive

Declaring an intention to be an organ donor should involve more than a simple checkbox at the DMV and a “heart” symbol on your driver’s license or joining a state registry, unless you are okay with not having a say in what body parts will be donated and how they will be used. What if you want to donate your organs for transplant, but not your skin, bones, tissue or entire body to science? What if you only want to donate specific organs, such as a kidney, and you want it to go to your cousin Joe who is undergoing dialysis and is in need? What if you are intent on having an open casket funeral and don’t want your skin donated? Without incapacity planning documents, specifically a properly-drafted Advance Medical Directive, you don’t really have a say in these important details.

An Advance Medical Directive authorizes another person to make decisions with respect to your medical care in the event that you are physically or mentally unable to do so, as certified by two physicians. Whether or not you feel strongly about organ donation, it is important to make your intentions known in an Advance Medical Directive if you want your wishes to be honored. In fact, every adult over the age of 18 should have an Incapacity Plan that includes a Financial Power of Attorney, an Advance Medical Directive, and an Advance Care Plan. If you don’t have an Incapacity Plan in place, now is the time to get started.

If you or members of your family have not done Incapacity Planning or Estate Planning, or if you would like to make updates to your existing planning documents, please contact us as soon as possible to make an appointment for a no-cost initial consultation:

Fairfax Estate Planning: 703-691-1888
Fredericksburg Estate Planning: 540-479-1435
Rockville Estate Planning: 301-519-8041
DC Estate Planning: 202-587-2797
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About Renee Eder

Renee Eder is the Director of Public Relations for the Farr Law Firm, and gives the voice to the Critters of Critter Corner. Renee’s poodle, Penny, is an official comfort dog who she and her children bring to visit with seniors who are in the early stages of dementia at a local senior home once a month.

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