Parents make gift in unique twist on organ donation
George Tinker (center) and his wife, Nancy, donated three sets of prosthetic legs to Loma Linda University Medical Center on August 29. Michael Davidson (left), MPH, CPO, clinical manager of orthotics and prosthetics at East Campus, says the prosthetic limbs will be adapted so they can be donated to help others as they had benefited the Tinkers’ late son, Joe.
A simple slip on a walk-in freezer floor turned Joe Tinker’s life literally upside down. A main artery in his leg was destroyed, and he endured more than 30 arterial bypass surgeries. Eventually, the leg had to be amputated, and later he lost the other leg as well.
Joe dealt with years of pain and depression. Then, 12 years after his accident, he joined the PossAbilities program at Loma Linda University’s East Campus Hospital. The free program provides persons with permanent disabilities the social, recreational, and motivational support and resources to help them get back into mainstream life.
Out of curiosity, Joe came out in June 2003 to watch Rudy’s Braveheart Triathlon, named in honor of Rudy Tolson-Garcia, a teenaged double-amputee athlete. Seeing the disabled athletes racing alongside everyone else encouraged Joe to get in shape himself. He received lots of support from the PossAbilities staff and members. Nine months later, he entered—and completed—the 2004 PossAbilities Triathlon in Loma Linda.
Less than a year later, at 38 years of age and just two months after his wedding, Joe died in his sleep. In a new twist on organ donation, Joe’s parents decided to donate his three pairs of prosthetic legs, including an ultra-modern computerized pair, to Loma Linda University Medical Center.
Their hope is that someone else’s life can take a turn for the better, as Joe’s did, by having the opportunity to be more active.
“He walked because of Loma Linda,” says Joe’s mother, Nancy, who says he walked down the aisle at his wedding wearing one of the pairs. Now, she adds, “somebody else needs to walk.”
Theirs is no small gift.
“You see these computerized legs all the time on eBay,” says Michael Davidson, MPH, CPO, clinical manager of orthotics and prosthetics at Loma Linda’s East Campus, noting that such legs easily sell on the auction website for $5,000 or more a piece.
“These legs have computerized sensors that can register when a person is going up or down, climbing stairs,” says Mr. Davidson. “They adjust so that people have much more stability.”
Joe’s mother says there was no question in their minds where the legs belonged. “They needed to come home,” she told Mr. Davidson when she and her husband, George, brought them to Loma Linda from their home in Oregon on August 29. She said they had wanted to make the donation last year but weren’t quite ready emotionally to do so.
While at the East Campus Hospital, they had the opportunity to talk with members of the orthotics and prosthetics department and the physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R) staff who had provided care for him. Joe’s mother, Nancy, and Suzanne Santoya, scheduling coordinator in PM&R, both had tears in their eyes as they looked at pictures of Joe.
Willie Stewart, PossAbilities coordinator, told the Tinker family during their visit about plans to install a large framed picture of Joe in the Hall of Heroes at East Campus so that his story can continue to inspire others. Plans are also underway to launch a Joe Tinker Scholarship to be awarded annually to meet educational, equipment, or other needs of a PossAbilities member.
By Marilyn Thomsen