(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first of a two-part series on organ and tissue donation.)
JUSTICE - “Ever since he first made his driver’s license, Ben had himself listed as an organ and tissue donor. He was adamant about this wish and had sat and talked about it time after time through the years. It was what he wanted, this was his choice and we honored it,” commented April Toler Mullins, as she was speaking with the Daily News about her late brother, Benjamin.
Benjamin Toler, 50, of Justice, passed away on July 21st, 2012, after suffering a fatal heart attack. He is survived by his mother and eight siblings including Mingo County Chief Magistrate Dallas Toler, Mark Toler of TMK Securities and Mullins, who works as a registered nurse at the Williamson Memorial Hospital.
“We all knew what Ben wanted, our entire family is organ donors,” stated Magistrate Toler. “It wasn’t a decision that was ours to make, he had made it years ago.”
The Toler family explained that on Oct. 8, 1983, their parents, Raymond and Lorraine Toler, were on their way home from church when they were shot by a neighbor who was allegedly angry over a property dispute. The perpetrator, who was a juvenile at the time, was finally sentenced after several years had passed to a prison sentence of 1-5 years, but actually only served 3. The violent act left their mother seriously injured and their father in a coma for 41 days. He passed away on Dec. 14th of that year.
“Ben was 21 at the time of the shooting,” stated Toler. “Before dad died, Ben sat and held his hand and made him a solemn promise that he didn’t have to worry about leaving mom behind, that he would always take care of her and would never leave her.”
“That’s a promise that Ben kept, and nothing short of death made him break it.”
Ben suffered a heart attack while at home, in the early morning hours of July 21. After he was transported to the emergency room of the Williamson Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead after attempts to resuscitate failed, the family was asked if their brother was an organ donor.
Ben’s siblings all replied with the same answer, a quick “yes”.
“We knew what Ben’s wishes were, he had made that very clear,” stated Mullins. “This was a topic he was very adamant about. Organ and tissue donation was something very important to him.”
Following Ben’s death, the Toler family had an extremely difficult time dealing and coping with their loss, unable to grasp that their love one was gone.
“Mom was devastated, to say the least,” said Toler. “My brother Mark may be the youngest boy in the family, but Ben was her baby…he was her life. He was the one that was with her every single day. No one will ever fill that void or take his place in her heart.”
The Toler family received a letter from the Medical Eye Bank of WV on Aug. 6, expressing their sympathy to those left behind grieving their loss and offering their heartfelt appreciation for the donation of Ben’s corneas (eyes), that had been given to a recipient who had been blind, but who now, had his sight restored thanks to the Toler’s gift and the miracle of corneal surgery.
Although the identity and location of the recipient werenot revealed, information was disclosed identifying him as a 28 year old male that had been blind since birth, who opened his eyes after the bandages were removed following the transplant surgery and gazed upon the face of his 2 year-old daughter for the first time.
“I can’t explain what that meant to my family,” said Toler. “At that moment, for the first time since Ben’s death, we felt peace. Knowing that a man is looking at his little girl, his loved ones and all of the wonders of this world through Ben’s eyes is an awesome feeling.”
“We feel like he’s still living through others,” remarked Mullins. “And that’s a very true statement. For every person that receives a part of Ben, he still remains…he still lives.”
“We find comfort in this, and it allows us a way to celebrate Ben’s life and what a truly awesome person he was, instead of only being able to mourn his death.”
The Center for Organ Recovery and Education out of Pittsburg, Pa. sent a detailed letter to the Toler family, explaining the outcome of their brother’s generous gift. The foundation stated that Ben’s donation could continue to help others for many years that require tissue and skin during transplants and grafts, as well as other procedures. His bone, tendons and iliac crests were harvested. These may aid others in need of surgical procedures to restore movement to the arm, leg or knee, or to assist in hernia repairs as well as those suffering brain injuries. The donated skin will also greatly benefit burn victims. Similar to a band-Aid, the donated skin is temporarily place over the patient’s injured skin. The new, healthy skin then serves as a protective barrier against infection and aids in preventing skin dehydration.
The letter ended by telling the Toler family that in Ben’s immeasurable ways, he will forever touch the lives of others, and said they hoped this information would guide them on a path of comfort and renewal.
“There’s not an hour that goes by that Ben’s not in my thoughts,” stated Toler. “We miss him more than we could ever explain. Our family will never be the same, but knowing how many lives he will change through his decision to be an organ and tissue donor has given us a certain amount of closure and peace.”
“Knowing that there will be a change in the quality of life for several people because of his caring and unselfish ways makes me even prouder to have been his brother.”
Part two of this series will be in Thursdays edition of the Daily News.