January 8, 2011

Positivity: Transplant just one chapter of first organ donor’s life

Filed under: Health Care,Positivity — Tom @ 7:00 am

From Mt. Vernon, Maine:

Posted: January 2
Updated: 10:05 PM

News of Ron Herrick’s passing came last week, amid all the headlines that, so often, feature a fleeting somebody doing something forgettable.

Why Herrick’s death was mentioned, though, is because he should never be forgotten.

Herrick decided 56 years ago to donate a kidney to his dying twin brother, leading to the world’s first successful organ transplant. As the first organ donor, he helped blaze a trail in a procedure that has since saved countless lives.

But what also makes Herrick’s passing so newsworthy, and his loss felt so deeply, is the life he lived beyond the transplant. This side of Herrick’s story is well known by the wife he loved for 51 years, the students he helped to understand and the boy with whom he shared his love of farming.

“He was an amazing individual,” said friend Roland Bean of Mount Vernon. “I have to say that I loved that man.”

Ron’s wife, Cynthia, and his sister, Virginia, were at his side when Ron died Dec. 27 at the Augusta Rehabilitation Center at age of 79. Ron’s health had declined since an October heart surgery.

Ron and his twin brother, Richard, were born June 15, 1931 in Worcester, Mass. Ron’s early years were spent on the family farm in Rutland, Mass. The farming bug got under Ron’s skin from an early age.

“There’s nothing he enjoyed more than running his tractor and mowing hay,” said Ron’s nephew, Scott Herrick, who purchased his uncle’s farm in Mount Vernon in 1997.

Ron and Cynthia purchased that farm in 1970, two years after moving to Maine. Ron, who had been a math teacher in Massachusetts, took a position at Winthrop Middle School in 1968. He spent 18 years at Winthrop before spending the next 10 years as an instructor at the University of Maine at Augusta. He retired from teaching in 1996 after a 37-year career.

“He loved math,” Cynthia Herrick said. “He loved to get it across, especially to people who had trouble with it. He had a knack for making it clear.

“He was a teacher and a farmer, those were his loves,” Cynthia continued. “He did a good job with both of them.”

Scott Herrick was just 9 years old when he began farming with his uncle.

“It was always a bit of camaraderie being out in the hayfield,” Scott said. “He never talked down to me. He was never mean to me. He was always just a great guy. I idolized him as a kid, and still.”

Scott remembers his uncle’s dry sense of humor. He could get Scott rolling with a simple gesture, without cracking so much as a smile.

Then there was Ron’s mind, which never seemed overly challenged.

“He knew so much more about farming than I ever will,” Scott said. “He would look at something and come up with a solution. Nine times out of 10 it worked.”

Ron rarely talked about his place in medical history, and never without prodding. Bean and Ron were friends and neighbors for years before he knew Ron had been the first organ donor. Bean had to pry his friend for details.

“It wasn’t something he carried around as a badge,” Bean said. “He was proud to be part of it, but he didn’t make a big deal out of it.”

Ron was always friendly, but he kept his emotions in check, Cynthia said. Ron’s most sentimental moments came when talking about Richard.

“It was always hard, even for me, to figure out what was going on inside his head,” Cynthia said. “I would tend to be the one to get emotional or upset. He never indulged in that sort of thing. He took things in stride. He kept me on the straight and narrow.”

There was nothing about Ron that made him stand out, Bean said, but his quiet presence commanded respect from those who met him. Bean and Herrick served a number of years together on the Mount Vernon Board of Selectmen.

Ron was as straightforward in town service as he was in the classroom or the hayfield.

“The thing that always impressed me about Ron is he could stand in front of somebody and tell them what he thought and they always respected him for it,” Bean said. “He amazed me. I could have said the same thing and gotten shot.”

It was Ron’s ability to reflect on a situation that gave him conviction when he made a decision. That was certainly true when it came to giving his kidney to Richard, who was dying from chronic nephritis, an inflammation of the kidneys. There were serious ethical and health concerns expressed by vast segments of the medical community prior to the 1954 surgery.

Ron never wavered. …

Go here for the rest of the story.

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