March 24, 2011

Family knows the power of decision to donate

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Filomena Palmer holds a special card written years ago by her brother, who donated organs following his death. (photo by Susan Urmy)

Family knows the power of decision to donate

Filomena Palmer is thankful for traditions — especially her family's pastime of saving cards.

Three years ago when her brother, Charlie Figert, died at 63 following a long illness, Palmer stumbled upon a birthday card he had given her son, Geoffrey, 16 years prior.

The words penned by her brother in the greeting brought invaluable comfort to her and her family.

The card read simply:

Love to you Geoffrey. Be good to your Mom and Dad and don't forget Trudy. But whatever you do as time passes by and you've seen many birthday cakes…the best thing I can tell you is give from the heart. By that I mean, love people so much that you put yourself second in everything you do or say or think about them. (I sure hope all of this computes.)
Love, Uncle Charlie

“The words were such a comfort to me that his advice to my son was to put other people first,” said Palmer, holding the card. “This is part of the answer I give when people ask us if Charlie wanted to donate his organs.

“When you are faced with a difficult decision, if you stick with what you know rather than speculate, you are going to be better off,” she said. “That is what we did.”

Palmer, along with another sibling, served as powers of attorney. They made the decision to list their brother as a donor, and in doing so, he gave the gift of life to others.

Palmer, a multi-specialty clinic coordinator at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt, will be the guest speaker during the second annual Donate Life Flag Raising Ceremony set for 4 p.m. Wednesday, March 30, on the Medical Center Plaza.

A Gift of Life Celebration will be held at the University Club from 4:30-6:30 p.m. immediately following the flag-raising ceremony.

The event, part of National Donate Life Month, is designed to highlight organ donation. Vanderbilt also uses this time to honor all donors as well as to educate the public on the need for organ, eye and tissue donation.

Figert, a Vietnam War veteran, donated his heart, liver and knee joints.

“This is who Charlie was,” said Palmer, pointing to his cursive writing in the birthday card.

“We have his own words that communicate how loving he was. He struggled with a terrible illness that robbed him of his ability to contribute to his family and the community. When he was at peace, when his mind was at rest, he gave.”

The card rests in a shadow box next to the American flag presented to the family in 2008 as a reminder of their brother's service.

Event organizers hope that many Vanderbilt faculty and staff will take the time to register online at or to visit the Donate Life Vanderbilt tent between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. on March 30.

In 2010 Vanderbilt University Medical Center had 47 deceased donors whose gifts allowed 166 people a second chance at life.

Currently there are 110,359 people on the transplant waiting list in the United States.