East County man speaks about decision to donate wife's organs

Robert Billings own life was saved by organ donor

SAN DIEGO - An East County man said the decision to donate his wife’s organs was an easy one because his own life was saved by an organ donation.

Robert and Jackie Billings were married for more than twenty years. Jackie, a mother of three, enjoyed being around people. That is why her husband said she loved her job as a Starbucks barista in Santee.

“She loved being able just to chit chat,” Robert Billings said. “She drew a lot of people in.”

In February, after battling flu-like symptoms for a couple of weeks, Jackie was admitted to Sharp Memorial Hospital. Turns out, she had bacterial meningitis and soon after passed away.

“It’s been tough,” said Robert. “It hasn’t been very long still. There’s a lot to deal with still.”

What was not tough was the decision to donate his longtime wife’s organs. Two kidneys, a lung and Jackie’s liver are now helping three other people live.

Wednesday, Sharp Memorial Hospital marked the month of April as National Donate Life Month. With nearly 78,000 people on the waiting list nationwide for organ transplants, the need is growing. Close to 2,000 people in the San Diego area are currently waiting for an organ transplant.

“I think it’s about awareness,” said Karen Hess, the director of transplants at Sharp HealthCare. “I think when people know the impact of donation and how they can turn something tragic into something incredible for someone else, I think it can really change the culture in the community.”

Robert encouraged everyone to donate.

“Just keep an open mind,” he said. “You can’t take it with you when you die, so if you could donate to somebody else to help them live to give them a better life, go ahead and put that pink dot on your driver’s license.”

There are three transplant centers in the San Diego area.

According to Sharp Healthcare, one organ donor can save up to eight lives by donating his or her heart, pancreas, liver, lungs, kidneys and intestines.

A tissue donor can improve the lives of up to 50 other people.

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