Tattoos: More Than Just Skin Deep

Tattoos may only be skin deep, but the reasons behind certain tattoos can go much deeper. For those connected to organ, eye and tissue donation and transplantation, the meaning behind their tattoos represents life.

Tattooing the skin as a means of personal expression is a practice that connects us across continents and time. For centuries, humans have been sharing their inner beliefs, cultures and experiences through tattoos. The Donate Life community is no different. Tissue and organ donors, alike, have been so touched by the gift of life that they often memorialize their experience with this form of body art.

Donor Spouse Gets Tattoo to Honor Husband’s Organ Donor

Meet Misty. Misty, one of our Advocates for Life, chose to honor her family’s journey in a unique way. After her husband, Jason, received a heart transplant, Misty captured the beat of his second chance at life in a tattoo.

“Our transplant journey began back in May of 2009 in Casper, Wyoming. My husband, Jason, had been feeling bloated and short of breath. He’d gone to his doctor, who diagnosed him with pneumonia. After about three weeks of not feeling good, four antibiotics and an ER visit, he just kept getting worse. We were finally referred to a cardiologist for an echocardiogram.

From there, he was admitted to our local hospital with Severe Idiopathic Cardiomyopathy. In plain language, this means severe heart failure of unknown causes. After two weeks, we were transferred out of state to Intermountain Medical Center in Utah where he was evaluated for a heart pump. The pump was to serve as a bridge to transplant. Transplant! This realization was scary for us both. He received the heart pump a week later.

While on the waitlist for a heart transplant, we began volunteering for Donate Life through Donor Connect, since we were living and receiving treatment in Utah. After Jason’s heart transplant, we moved back to our home in Casper, Wyoming and continued our passionate advocacy by volunteering with Donor Alliance.

I’ve always wanted a tattoo, but I wanted it to mean something. Throughout Jason’s heart transplant and the years that followed, I began to have an idea of what I wanted – something that would have great meaning for us and always remind us of the gift of life that he received. I needed copies of his EKGs in order to make my tattoo unique to his donation and transplant story and what I wanted it to mean.

I settled on a design and wanted to capture the beat of a heart, old and new, in the design. I had a copy of Jason’s first EKG, when he was initially diagnosed and I tried to get a copy of his first EKG after his transplant. Interestingly, I learned from the doctors that the first EKG after transplant can often be all over the place, so they recommended I get an EKG after some time had passed and Jason’s body had time to adjust to his new heart.

I settled on Jason’s EKG from his 10 year follow up. Incredible, right! We’ve been given 10 additional years of memories and blessings all made possible because of his donor and their family. The colors in my tattoo were added to represent the Donate Life logo. For us, the blue also represents his failing heart, the red is for his donor, and the green represents the gift of life he received.

My tattoo is a story of our journey together and serves as a constant and welcomed reminder of the selfless decision his donor made to be an organ, eye and tissue donor. My tattoo pays tribute to and honors his donor every day. I am thankful for the gift of life Jason received and we are reminded of our blessings every day; especially when I look at my tattoo.

Donor Mother Carries Her Daughter with Her Every Day in a Tattoo

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Babette and family were devastated when their young daughter Brianna died suddenly of a tragic self-inflicted accident. Through Brianna’s organ, eye and tissue donations, Babette found some comfort among the grief and felt honored that she was able to help others in death, as she did in life.

Babette, also an Advocate for Life, had a few tattoos already and always loved the beautiful artwork and meaning behind them. She memorialized her beautiful daughter on her arm and now carries her with her every day.

“When Brianna passed away, I didn’t know how I was going to make it. How was our family supposed to function without her? I only had two tattoos before Brianna passed and now, well, let’s say I have a lot! But there is one that I have that is very special to me. I knew right away that I wanted Brianna’s portrait as my tattoo and I knew it could only come from the best tattoo artist, in my opinion, Kat Von D.

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I have loved Kat’s work for a while and am obsessed with the show, LA Ink. I had no clue how I was going to make it all happen! How I would get the money, not only for the tattoo but also the travel? Just five months after the death of my daughter, Brianna, my dream would come true.

On November 12, 2010, I got to meet Kat Von D. at a book signing. I knew she liked to journal, so I made her a journal. I put a picture of Brianna inside and shared a little about our story. Around March, I got a message from LA Ink. The producer said Kat had been asking about my story and wanted me to be on the season premiere! I was so touched and overjoyed! The thought of meeting Kat and her helping me create a tattoo in Brianna’s memory was overwhelming and exciting! By the end of March, my daughter, Kayla, a few close friends and I were off to Los Angeles to film the season premiere of LA Ink that would air in July of 2011.

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Brianna’s portrait tattoo means so much to me! I feel like she is always in my heart, but now I can actually look in the mirror and see her beautiful face on my arm. Because of Brianna’s story and legacy, I have been blessed with many opportunities. She talked about donation with her father and we know she would wanted to help others in her death. My tattoo is a reminder of my precious little girl and how I feel she has guided me through the 11 years since she passed.”

Can I be an Organ Donor Even with a Tattoo?

Contrary to a common myth, having a tattoo does not preclude you from becoming an organ donor at the time of your death. A thorough medical history and social risk review is performed by the organ procurement organization for every eligible deceased donor. No matter your tattoo preference, you can say Yes to organ, eye and tissue donation and give hope to the nearly 2,000 people waiting for an organ transplant in our region and thousands more wait for a healing tissue transplant.

With roughly 36 percent of adults between 18 and 29 having at least one tattoo, they have become somewhat commonplace. The majority of those who have tattoos will tell you the reason they got a tattoo was to memorialize a significant experience or time in their life. Donation and transplantation is definitely a significant experience for donor families and transplant recipients alike. For these families connected by the gift of life, a tattoo is more than just skin deep.

sign-up-today-buttonInspired to register an organ, eye and tissue donor in Colorado?

Remember your most recent decision is honored at the time of your death, so say Yes to organ, eye and tissue donation when you get or renew your driver license or state ID at your local Colorado Driver License office. You can also say Yes to saving lives online anytime.

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