By Andréa Danziger
In the middle of the night on June 26th, 2017, I received the call that no person should ever receive. It was from a trauma doctor in Oakland, California, notifying me that my brother, Aaron Meadow, had been involved in a boating accident. He suffered a “near drowning” when a strong gust caused the boom of his sailboat to hit him in the head, flinging him unconscious into the choppy waters of the San Francisco Bay. Although the emergency response was swift, he had been without oxygen for 9 minutes. I soon learned that the brain can only sustain 3 minutes without oxygen and that this was a dire situation.
I immediately flew from my home in New York to California. The 48 hours following my arrival on the west coast were a swirl of meetings, as my sister and I met with doctor after doctor to discuss my brother’s status and grim prognosis. Upon concluding that there was no chance of recovery, we met with a representative from Donor Network West, the local branch of the national organ donor network. Because my brother was not a registered organ donor, it was up to us to decide whether he would give the gift of life. For the first time in days, I inhaled a deep breath and felt my shoulders relax, realizing that in the face of unspeakable tragedy, my brother had the power to save lives.
Aaron was a warm, caring and open-hearted person who brought light into this world, literally and figuratively. He was a professional lighting designer, starting his career in theater and expanding into lighting television sets for news and sporting events including the Super Bowl, fine art installations at museums such as the Guggenheim, and even the occasional corporate event. He was also an avid and experienced sailor, spending summer evenings crewing and racing, mostly in the Long Island Sound off of New York and Connecticut.
In life, Aaron was known for giving his time freely, generously, and without hesitation to help others. As one friend expressed, “Aaron was dependable in a way so few are, he never asked ‘how can I help?’, he just showed up and did.” We had no doubt that giving the gift of life is what Aaron would have wanted.
The organ donation process begins with a decision. You can decide you want to help save people by donating your organs when you die and then you can register as an organ donor. Since Aaron was not a registered organ donor, we, the family, consented to donate his organs. We were told that Aaron’s donation of organs (kidneys and liver) and tissue (including skin and corneas) could save up to eight people and enhance the lives of many others. According to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), there are approximately 114,000 people waiting for organs in the U.S. — 10,000 of them right here in New York — and not nearly enough donors to meet this need. I know Aaron would have been proud to help others.
The inscription on Aaron’s tombstone (and on a bracelet that I wear every day) reads “Even in Darkness it is Possible to Create Light.” I feel my brother’s presence around me and know that he lives on not only in the lives and hearts of those who he touched in life, but literally in the lives that he saved in his untimely death. I am driven to dispel the myths associated with organ donation and to assist other families in crisis.
Sunday evening marks the beginning of Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights, which we celebrate for eight days and rejoice in having hope in even the darkest of times. Aaron’s death was devastating for our family, but knowing that he had gone on to save others comforted our family and brought light into the darkness. This holiday season I want to encourage all New Yorkers to register as organ donors and make their wishes known to their families. I have also promised myself that this year, I will write a letter to the recipients of Aaron’s organs, telling them about how Aaron lived his life, in the hopes that they will chose to respond and that we might meet someday to witness and honor his lifesaving legacy.
To learn more or to sign up to become a donor, please visit LiveOnNY.org.
Andréa Danziger lives in Larchmont, New York, and works in New York City as Practice Management Director for the national law firm, Blank Rome LLP. In addition to devoting time to LiveOnNY, she is active in several Cornell University alumni organizations and volunteers for Future Business Leaders of America, an organization inspiring high school students to become community-minded business leaders. Andréa, and her sister Roxanne Cohen of San Carlos, California, also share their brother’s passion for the arts, dance and musical theater.