Mike Butler says 'life's been wonderful' since double-organ transplant
Double-organ transplant recipient Mike Butler of Hagerstown is the Western Maryland representative for Donate Life Maryland. (By Colleen McGrath/Staff Photographer / May 4, 2012)
April was a busy month for Hagerstown resident Mike Butler. He's a low-key guy, but he is filled with missionary zeal. His life was changed, made more complete. He owes a debt, and he wants to pay it forward.
Seventeen years ago, Butler received a double-organ transplant — a kidney and an pancreas. In 24 hours, his life changed. He went from being a diabetic with kidney failure to a healthy, active man.
So he wants to bring his message to others.
April was Organ Donation Awareness Month. Although donors can register throughout the year, Butler and other volunteers with Living Legacy Foundation based in Baltimore which partner with Donate Life Maryland in April to get the word out and register donors.
More than 114,000 people nationwide are waiting on an organ, eye or tissue donation, according to Donate Life Maryland. More than 2,000 people in the state of Maryland are on the critical donor waiting list. And every day, 18 people die waiting on a donation.
For Butler, who is the Western Maryland representative for Donate Life Maryland, it's personal.
"Life's been so wonderful since my transplant," he said recently by phone. "I used to take a table-full of medicine, but currently, after 17 years with this kidney and pancreas, I am down to five (medications) a day. And I no longer have to take insulin. I'm no longer considered a diabetic. My life's a joy anymore."
Butler acknowledged that the act of donating organs is bittersweet. For a person with a failed kidney or lung, a donation can save a life or restore a person to a more vibrant health. But, except for "living donations — when a living person donates a kidney, some bone marrow or a small portion of a few organs — organs can't be transplanted until the donor has died. Sometimes that death is unexpected or tragic.
So Butler's joy at his return to health was tempered by his knowledge that someone died before he could receive his new organs.
"Someone has lost part of their family, and everyone has grieving time," he said. "I sent this letter out, and I told (the donor's mother), 'I (wish) we could invent a word to say "thank you" for how I feel, for how grateful I am, because it is just night and day. Everybody knows the big change in me.'"
Natalie Benavides, executive director of Donate Life Maryland, said surviving family members sometimes object to following through with a donor's wishes. She said Butler is a great example of the positive impact of donating organs.
"He would never have been able to do that without someone donating their organs," she said.
One recipient's story
Butler, who turns 49 this month, said he has always been active. He was born and raised in Hagerstown, worked a full career in corrections and law enforcement and, now retired, volunteers all over Western Maryland with Legacy of Life.
But he's lived with health issues from a young age. Early in life, he was diagnosed with a chronic disease, Type 1 diabetes.
"I was diagnosed with diabetes at 12," he said. "That was back in 1976. That was the year before Sweet-n-Low was invented. (There were) no blood-pressure-testing machines. No diabetic menus. No education for people with diabetes. It was hard, especially for a kid growing up trying to live a normal life."
Butler said he had to take daily insulin shots to survive, but he tried to live an ordinary, active life — played three sports in high school, involved in church, worked two jobs.
"Just an average teenager, but having to deal with diabetes, and having to take an insulin shot every day," he said.
He earned a degree from Hagerstown Junior College and took a job with Frederick County Sheriff's Office. He married and had a son. All things considered, he was satisfied with life.