My cousin, my hero

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Amy Dorsett was the all-American teenager. Tall and beautiful, she was the captain of her high school cheerleading squad and loved anything athletic, from riding horses, to swimming and dancing.

Amy was engaged to her high school sweetheart, Bill, who had recently completed a tour in the Marine Corps on the Presidential support detail. Amy and Bill were to be married in September, and they planned to settle down near where they both grew up in western Massachusetts to begin their life together as countless young couples do each day in America.

Amy was born with Cystic Fibrosis, a debilitating genetic disease that causes difficulty breathing, frequent lung infections and early death. According to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, about 30,000 people in America suffer from Cystic Fibrosis and another 10 million more carry the gene that causes the disease. Amy and her entire family lived their lives with complete knowledge of both the nature and the consequences of her disease. However, in spite of the frequent hospitalizations, the painful treatments, and near-constant sacrifice asked of them all, Amy's became one of those rarest of lives -- one that was remarkable for its normalcy.

Amy Dorsett was my cousin, and she was my hero. And on August 25th of this past year, she succumbed to her disease and died at the age of 22.

Early last year, Amy had become healthy enough to begin the process of obtaining a double-lung transplant that would have given her the chance to begin anew. The procedure for getting on the transplant list is lengthy, and even the finest hospitals in Boston cannot overcome the long and difficult process of taking ones place on the list and then hoping a suitable donor can be found in time. For Amy, that process took longer than the time she was given, and her entire family is left with the loss of a life that ended much too soon and a world that is not quite complete without her.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, each day about 77 people receive the organ transplants that bring them new life but 19 others die awaiting that very same opportunity. As you read this article, more than 94,000 people are awaiting organ donations across America and about 300 new candidates are added to transplant lists each month.

Department of Defense policy encourages all members of the military and defense community to become organ and tissue donors and to discuss organ and tissue donation with their next of kin. While deciding to become a donor is an intensely personal decision, it is one that can make the difference in the lives of others who are in dire need of an organ or tissue transplant. The United States government estimates that each person who commits to being a donor may someday improve the lives of as many as 50 people in need.

February 14 is National Donor Day, a day set aside to focus on what are called the Five Points of Life: Organs, Tissues, Marrow, Platelets, and Blood. It is also a good opportunity to think about becoming an organ and tissue donor and to discuss the facts surrounding organ and tissue donation with your family.

There was only one Amy Dorsett, and her entire family misses her very much. However, there are thousands like her in America today who might get a second chance because someone whom they have never known, and will never meet, decided to become an organ donor.