LAWTON, OK (KSWO) -A woman who owes her life to a soldier was in Lawton Thursday to help raise awareness of the importance of becoming an organ donor.
She shared her story during a seminar at Comanche County Memorial Hospital. Donor recipient and Lifeshare Oklahoma coordinator Nita French says after years of living with diabetes, the disease took a toll on her kidneys and pancreas. Then in 2001, she was given a second chance at life through the death of a soldier.
French says that soldier not only gave her life, but he also gave her the ability to save the lives of at least eight others in the event of her death. She says prior to receiving her new kidney and pancreas, she was not an organ donor, but she is now.
French was just 12 years old when she was diagnosed with diabetes. She and her family learned how to manage the disease, but she says when she entered her mid-20s, it wasn't so easy.
"It was something I had to think about, always having insulin, always having syringes, making sure I was taking my shots on time," French said.
Before long, the doctors told her she needed a new kidney and pancreas, and she would die without them. After waiting two long years, she got the call she'd been waiting for.
"Oh my goodness, this is really going to happen. I'm really going to be healthy for the first time in so many years," French said.
She says when she woke up from her transplant surgery, she felt better than she ever had.
"When I woke up from surgery, I thought they gave me a whole new body because I could not believe how good I felt. It had been so long since I had been healthy. I was ready to get out of the bed and run. I couldn't believe how good I felt," French said.
She says her happiness quickly turned to sadness. She says her new life came with a price; the life of a 25-year-old solider whose family was in pain.
"They were having a different experience than we were. Everybody in my family was happy I was healthy and then there was another family that was going through horrible grief of a loss of a loved one," French said.
So, she wrote the young soldier's mother a letter to try and thank the family for their loved one's gift of life. The soldier's mom responded with love and compassion.
"She was so happy to get the letter. She said that she'd been sad every day since her son died and then she got my letter and she said the sun came out for the first time since he had died because she realized he didn't die for nothing. He saved eight lives and she was so proud of him and the legacy that he left by helping so many people go on living," French explained.
All the more reason why French says she's passionate about raising awareness about organ donation, and became a donor herself.
She says in the end, the benefit of giving someone a second chance at living can help their family heal.
"When someone dies, a family has more than sadness and grief, they have the joy of knowing their loved one lives on in so many people and they have the joy of getting to meet some of those people potentially. Just knowing that their loved one left a legacy that is bigger than any legacy that you could possible leave," French said.
It's been 16 years since French had her transplant and she is doing well. Since then, she and her husband have had three more children, two girls and a little boy.
You can become an organ donor by registering at any local DMV office or online at lifeshareok.org.