Living the gift of life

The Means Report

This episode of The Means Report focuses on the gift of life. You will find out how special it is to receive the gift of life from a man who knows all to well what it feels like and how it has impacted his life going forward. You will also find out what it takes to five the gift of life, maybe clear up some of the misconceptions and myths that are out there when it comes to organ and tissue donation.

Brad Means: Bill, thanks for comin’ across the river to Augusta to be with us and to share your story with us. We appreciate it.

Bill Bourbeau: Thank you, thank you for havin’ me.

Brad Means: Well I told everybody that you would be the example of what it’s like to receive the gift of life, so let’s go back to before you had to take advantage of that receipt, and just kind of outline what happened when you were driving down the road, and like so many of us do, you were asked to, or ordered to, stop for a funeral procession, right?

Bill Bourbeau: Correct, I was…

Brad Means: What happened after that?

Bill Bourbeau: I was stopped in New Ellenton, in front of the cemetery. A funeral was about to enter into the cemetery, and it was just right after we’d had the ice storm, so I had just cleared, I had a trailer on the back of my truck, and I had just emptied a load of trees and branches and stuff, and I was stopped there in front of the cemetery in New Ellenton. A funeral was comin’ in, and another driver wasn’t paying attention at all, and…

Brad Means: He was comin’ up behind you?

Bill Bourbeau: They were comin’ up behind me. Traffic in front of me is stopped, there’s a long line. Anyway this other driver’s comin’ up behind me, and they’re actually doing about 60 miles an hour, and they’re watching the funeral going into the cemetery, and not watching ahead of them, and that driver hit my trailer, which was like a car hauler trailer. That trailer then separated my truck from the trailer and became a ramp for the car, the SUV in this case actually, and that SUV went up into the air, and then came down and landed on top of my truck.

Brad Means: How much of this were you aware of? Could you hear it? Could you see the guy barrelling towards you before impact?

Bill Bourbeau: No, I had no idea it was comin,’ which was probably the saving grace, really. Had no idea it was coming, I felt the impact, and I, just like anybody else, I thought, “Oh great, someone just rear-ended me.”

Brad Means: Mm-hmm.

Bill Bourbeau: And then all of a sudden, my glass is poppin’ out everywhere, my roof of my truck is comin’ down, and then, all of a sudden I feel the hot pain on my back and shoulders, which was the oil and the radiator fluids and all the different fluids that were in this other vehicle’s engines. So, then, I’m kinda wondering what’s going on, and, I don’t know at what point I realized what had happened, and in fact I didn’t realize there was someone on top of me until I crawled out of my truck.

Brad Means: You were able to crawl out?

Bill Bourbeau: I crawled out through a small, my window was open, whatever it, well it was busted out actually is what had happened.

Brad Means: Mm-hmm.

Bill Bourbeau: And, so it was kind of at an angle like this, so I crawled out of my truck, and as I’m crawling out, I’m kinda looking up at the sky, and at that point, that’s when I realized there was a vehicle on top of my car.

Brad Means: When did you first notice that you were injured? Could you, I would guess, feel it, were you able to see anything that let you know, “Uh oh, something happened to my body”?

Bill Bourbeau: Not at first, I mean, like I said, at first I didn’t even really realize what happened. I felt the heat. Didn’t realize where that was comin’ from at first.

Brad Means: Mm-hmm.

Bill Bourbeau: But my thought was, “I just wanna get out of this truck, “’cause there’s very little space in here right now.” When I got out, it was a few minutes after I was out of the truck, and I had to take off my shirt. I thought this was my shirt that was burnin’ me. So I took off my shirt, and I think at that’s the first point I realized there was some injuries to me, and I had some glass in my head and stuff like that, minor things, but that’s when I realized I was hurt.

Brad Means: Bill, I imagined it’s scary, and just listening to your story it gives me pause, and makes me think how I might react, which is probably in a freaked out manner. You’re a Marine, and I appreciate your service to our country.

Bill Bourbeau: Thank you.

Brad Means: Did that kind of training and preparation help you maybe handle this crisis better than most people, as far as getting out of the truck, checking yourself out, removing your shirt, did it kick in?

Bill Bourbeau: I don’t know if that did, I was also a state trooper for years in Florida.

Brad Means: Mm-hmm.

Bill Bourbeau: So I’d been around plenty of crashes, worked a lot of those myself. I would suppose that probably did come into part a little bit, but, I mean I just wanted to get out of my truck.

Brad Means: Yeah, and I’m glad you…

Bill Bourbeau: That was the first thing.

Brad Means: Absolutely, and I’m glad and grateful that you did. When did you first find out that this was gonna be a big deal, that you were going to need to receive tissue in order to repair your body? Did the doctor come in and say, “Here’s what we’re thinking about doing?”

Bill Bourbeau: Not at first, chemical burns are a little different than other kinds of burns I guess. I didn’t realize that they can actually take couple hours, 24 hours to manifest into what they’re gonna turn into.

Brad Means: Mm-hmm.

Bill Bourbeau: So, I was transported to the hospital in Augusta. Glass was removed from my head and then the doctors cleaned up my arm and shoulder with saline, and they sent me home. They said I would be okay, the burns weren’t that bad. It was later that night that those burns really started to develop.

Brad Means: Mm-hmm.

Bill Bourbeau: And we went back to the Augusta Emergency Room first thing in the morning, and they sent me right away over to the burn center in Augusta, at which point they had me do my first, got me ready for my first skin graft right away that day, and then there were two more that followed after that.

Brad Means: Is it, was there any sort of a, it doesn’t sound like it, a delay or a waiting period? You always hear about these lists, and you wait for your turn on the list. This sounds more like it was immediate.

Bill Bourbeau: In my case, it was immediate, I mean there was, I was fortunate that there was a cadaver, in my case already there.

Brad Means: Mm-hmm.

Bill Bourbeau: With skin available to be donated to me.

Brad Means: So how soon until you felt better, until your arm and shoulder didn’t burn anymore and you started to feel like the old Bill?

Bill Bourbeau: I don’t really recall the initial.

Brad Means: Yeah.

Bill Bourbeau: ‘Cause you know you’re on some medicines and stuff to help with the pain and things.

Brad Means: Sure, sure.

Bill Bourbeau: A couple weeks though afterwards, I mean it starts to become really uncomfortable.

Brad Means: Mm-hmm.

Bill Bourbeau: The skin’s starting to take to your skin, and that can be uncomfortable in itself, and then you have bandages and things, so it was a couple months before it was like back to normal.

Brad Means: And, you know I joked about it when I met you in the lobby. I was sorta scared to shake your hand. I didn’t know if you were in pain, I know it’s been four years but, would you say you’re normal again, 100%?

Bill Bourbeau: In my case, I’m completely normal.

Brad Means: Mm-hmm.

Bill Bourbeau: As far as my arm and things go, anyway, no pain.

Brad Means: In our next segment we’re gonna talk about a celebration that you’re going to take part in as part of this…

Bill Bourbeau: Right.

Brad Means: Receiving of the gift of life, and I know you all are gonna want to stay tuned for that. We’re also gonna talk about how simple it is to donate organs and/or tissue. But have you had a chance to meet the person’s family who was responsible for this?

Bill Bourbeau: No, I have not.

Brad Means: Does that happen, is that normal? Or with a facility like the burn center that has cadavers on stand-by, you typically don’t meet the family? In other words, did you ever think you would meet ’em?

Bill Bourbeau: No, I really didn’t, and that’s probably a question better asked to Mark, but I don’t know how many of the families ever really, or how many recipients ever really do get to meet someone that has donated to them.

Brad Means: What would you say to people who are on the fence about donating, or just checking that box on their driver’s license or the next trip to the DMV who just aren’t certain about whether they should be a donor?

Bill Bourbeau: Well, it’s kinda like one of those, “It’s never gonna be me,” kinda things.

Brad Means: Mm-hmm.

Bill Bourbeau: And then one day it’s you, right?

Brad Means: Yeah.

Bill Bourbeau: It’s just simple to do, and you don’t realize until you might be that person getting it, what an impact it has on someone, what an impact it has on me, what an impact a donor, who’s donated that they’ve had on someone’s life, how they’ve changed someone’s life. I think in my case, things are fairly simple, but there are people I have met now since receiving this, that’s lives were drastically changed.

Brad Means: Yeah.

Bill Bourbeau: I mean drastically. And sometimes it goes up to the last minute. A heart recipient could have just minutes left, and all of a sudden now they have a heart.

Brad Means: Any idea how the rest of the folks involved in that wreck turned out? The guy whose truck was on top of yours, how’d he do?

Bill Bourbeau: It was a her.

Brad Means: Her?

Bill Bourbeau: And she was elderly.

Brad Means: Mm-hmm.

Bill Bourbeau: And she was fine.

Brad Means: Mm-hmm.

Bill Bourbeau: She had no injuries.

Brad Means: Yeah.

Bill Bourbeau: She was transported along with me, but just for a precaution. I think mostly it was her age.

Brad Means: Sure.

Bill Bourbeau: But she was fine.

Brad Means: And no follow up for you these days? I know you said you’re back to normal and everything, no return trips to the doctor necessary at this point I’m guessing?

Bill Bourbeau: No, the first year there were return trips just to check on things and see how things were doing.

Brad Means: It’s become your skin, right?

Bill Bourbeau: It’s become my skin, and there are certain times of the year when you’ll see it more than others, but for the most part, I have very little scarring. It’s blended in really well.

Brad Means: Well, that’s incredible, and it’s, excuse me, it’s something to be grateful for, for sure.

Bill Bourbeau: I am.

Brad Means: I want to talk more about Bill’s story, for sure. Find out about that exciting development that’s coming up in about four weeks’ time. And also tell you how simple it is to give the gift of life. Bill touched on it, you know why not do it? Why think, “Oh, it’ll never be me.”? Mark Johnson, an expert in that area, with the We Are Sharing Hope South Carolina organization knows all about organ and tissue recovery, and he’ll walk you through the steps, when The Means Report continues.

Part 2

Brad Means: Welcome back to The Means Report. We’re talking about organ and tissue donation and how simple it is. Bill Bourbeau was our guest in the first segment, and talked about how it’s changed his life, and it certainly has, he painted quite a picture of that, and we’re so grateful that he did. Mark Johnson is with We Are Sharing Hope South Carolina, an organization that facilitates organ and tissue recovery. Mark, thank you for being here.

Mark Johnson: Yes.

Brad Means: I appreciate it.

Mark Johnson: Thank you.

Brad Means: We talked to Bill about the waiting time. I thought that there was always a list, no matter what you got, tissue, skin, organs, you had to just wait with your fingers crossed. How does it work typically with tissue/skin?

Mark Johnson: There is not a waiting list, thankfully for that. That’s not as urgent of a need, typically, and, because tissue can be preserved longer than organs can, you can keep a supply, sort of like blood, on hand, for potential needs, like what happened with Bill. He needed it right away once they started discovering that he had those chemical burns, but, didn’t have to find a donor immediately right then, because they were able to find tissue that was already on-hand, and could help him out.

Brad Means: And as far as meeting the family of a donor, is that typically something that’s restricted to organ donation?

Mark Johnson: It’s not restricted, but it’s easier for organ donation because with organs, you can donate up to eight organs, and with tissue, and organ donation, that one person can help up to 75 others. So tracking down that donor to the particular person, becomes a little more cumbersome for tissue donation because a tissue donor can donate so many more things and, which are very helpful, but it becomes a little more problematic sometimes for making sure both the recipient wants to meet the donor family and the donor family wants to, because both have to agree before any sort of meeting takes place, whether it’s organ or tissue.

Brad Means: Have y’all ever run out of either tissues or organs? I know sometimes organs are very last minute. You know the person running across the tarmac with the cooler? You ever run out of tissue and had to have an emergency drive like blood banks do?

Mark Johnson: Not necessarily tissue. Organs are in dire need, right now there are 114,000, over 114,000 people that are waiting in the country for a transplant.

Brad Means: Mm.

Mark Johnson: There’s not really a waiting list for tissue, thankfully because more people can become tissue donors than organ donors. A very small percentage of the people that die actually are successful in becoming organ donors.

Brad Means: Mm-hmm.

Mark Johnson: Where most people can become tissue donors, so there’s more of a supply of tissue than there is organs.

Brad Means: What’s the easiest way, is it all at the DMV still, as I remember?

Mark Johnson: That’s the way about 97, 98% of the people actually sign up to be an organ, eye and tissue donor, but folks watching right now, if they haven’t already done that, can easily do it by going to That’s the website that will work for Georgia residents or South Carolina residents.

Brad Means: Yeah.

Mark Johnson: And also, folks that have an iPhone can now register using the iPhone. Go to the health app, and the medical tab, on there, and you can register right there, and that’ll put you into, whether you’re in Georgia, South Carolina, or Wyoming.

Brad Means: We talked about myths and misconceptions. First and foremost, how does this impact your loved one’s funeral? Does it have to be closed casket?

Mark Johnson: No, and that’s a very big misconception, especially for tissue donation.

Brad Means: Mm-hmm.

Mark Johnson: For a donor, the body is treated just like a regular surgery, and treated with respect, so that if the family wants an open casket, that opportunity is there for the potential for an open casket for organ donors or tissue donors.

Brad Means: Why, do you just take it from places that aren’t seen?

Mark Johnson: Yeah, and also the embalming helps out, and, you know just like a regular death, someone that’s a donor is treated with potential to be an open casket, yes.

Brad Means: You ever run into any religious concerns, about people who say, “Oh I can’t donate, “it’s against my religion.”

Mark Johnson: Yeah, that’s one of the other misconceptions. Most major religious organizations see this as a opportunity for people to give back, and say it’s a personal choice for their parishioners, their folks in their church to become a donor. So most major religions, mainstream religions do support organ, eye and tissue donation.

Brad Means: Who pays for it, or does it depend on who’s getting the tissue versus who’s donating it, who pays?

Mark Johnson: There’s no cost to the donor family.

Brad Means: Mm-hmm.

Mark Johnson: For organ recovery, that cost eventually goes to the transplant centers and to the patients that are waiting on those organs, their insurance company and funds pay for that.

Brad Means: How long does it take, once we decide to be a donor, and our loved one passes, before we get ’em back?

Mark Johnson: Before the funeral can take place, is that?

Brad Means: Correct.

Mark Johnson: It can be up to, once recovery takes place, or someone’s listed as a donor, for organ donation it could take 24 to 48 hours before those organs can be recovered, because with organ recovery, what has to take place is wherever those organs are placed, on the waiting list, someone could be receiving an organ in Chapel Hill, say.

Brad Means: Mm-hmm.

Mark Johnson: And also in Charleston at MUSC and another organ could be staying here in Augusta at the Transplant Center. So all of those surgeons have to arrive at that donor hospital before anything can take place. So, logistically that could take some time, and getting them there could take 24 to 48 hours.

Brad Means: Mark, what about age groups, are there more, are there age, people of a certain age that you need more than others, or does it matter?

Mark Johnson: It doesn’t matter. We tell people not to rule themselves out, whether they’re too old, not to count themselves out because someone that’s 70 could be in better health, that’s in good health at age 70, that dies of an accident or something like that could be healthier than a 35 year old who hasn’t taken care of themselves.

Brad Means: Mm-hmm.

Mark Johnson: So we tell people not to rule themselves out. And again, as I mentioned, most people can be either a tissue donor or a cornea donor. Last year in South Carolina, over 800 people became cornea donors, gave people the gift of sight, which is important. Over 200 people became tissue donors, and across the nation, over a million tissue transplants took place.

Brad Means: And, my last question probably, and you just touched on it really, was, what if there are health concerns, “Oh I’m not a good donor, my stuff’s not that healthy.” We shouldn’t make that decision.

Mark Johnson: Right, and that’s what we tell people. Just don’t rule yourselves out, if you support donation, which we hope most people do, in fact, surveys say over 90% of people support donation, but only about half of the country has signed up, and that’s why we make it easy with the iPhone, the, just go ahead and sign up, and let that decision be made at the time of death.

Brad Means: Bill, I want to bring you back in. Thanks to the Association of Tissue Banks, you’re gonna take a trip out to California for the Rose Bowl Parade, tell me what that’s all about and how we can see you on TV. I love waking up and watching that parade!

Bill Bourbeau: Well it’ll be my first time, obviously. I’m lookin’ forward to it, I’m excited. The organization is flying my wife and I out there, we’re gonna be on the, either on or walking close to the float in the parade, and it’s an opportunity to really kinda honor the family that donated to me.

Brad Means: Sure.

Bill Bourbeau: And so I think that’s the general idea of most of the other riders and walkers is, this is an opportunity to show some appreciation and honor the families that donate.

Brad Means: Well I congratulate you for being on that…

Bill Bourbeau: Thank you.

Brad Means: Donate Life float. Mark, couple of dozen, give or take, folks from around the country being represented, and as Bill said,

Mark Johnson: Yeah.

Brad Means: honoring those families.

Mark Johnson: Yes, exactly, there’ll be portraits on there who are donors, who were donors, their images there, and the people that are either walking or riding are either living donors or recipients like Bill.

Brad Means: Do you know if you’re gonna walk or ride? I want to be able to spot you that day. And we had something on the news last night about you, so I know people are gonna be interested.

Bill Bourbeau: I’m not sure it’s been decided yet.

Mark Johnson: Yeah, it hasn’t been decided.

Brad Means: Yeah.

Mark Johnson: We’re hoping he gets to ride because a five mile, that’s a really long parade.

Brad Means: It is.

Mark Johnson: It’s five miles.

Brad Means: Yeah, have you practiced your wave?

Bill Bourbeau: I think so.

Brad Means: Yeah, it’s that. It’s that for five full miles.

Mark Johnson: Exactly.

Brad Means: Well I wish you the very best, and numbers really quickly Mark, say going back the past year, couple of years, have you seen the numbers increase or decrease when it comes to donors? Because it seems like more people are aware at least.

Mark Johnson: Yes, awareness is getting out there, and there are more and more transplants taking place because of medical technology. More and more people are able to receive transplants and help them in their medical treatment.

Brad Means: Mm-hmm.

Mark Johnson: But that’s not being kept up with the number of donors. We’re still seeing donors, a lot of people registering to become donors, but that, there’s still a huge gap between the number of people that need a transplant and the people that can become donors.

Brad Means: Wow, we want to share some information on the screen before we go to break, about how you can sign up to be a donor. But Mark, thanks for spreading the word, and Bill, thanks for sharing your story. I’m so glad you’re healthy and happy again, and I’m jealous of your trip, I hope you have fun out there.

Bill Bourbeau: Thank you, appreciate it.

Brad Means: Absolutely, we’ll look for you on TV. Thank you both gentlemen. If you want to find out more about what they talked about today, it’s so easy, you can log on, as Mark indicated, just go to the internet and handle everything., the medical tab of your iPhone health app is a great way to pursue being a donor as well, and visit your DMV, upwards of 96, 7, 8% of folks still do that, so say yes when they ask you if you would like to be a donor, and then you’ll just always be on that list because in the words of Bill Bourbeau, “You never know when it’s gonna be you.”

And then look for our soon to be rising star Tuesday January 1st, Graniteville strong, 11:00 in the morning on News Channel 6, we shall look for Bill, hopefully he’s front and center, he gets a good slot because he deserves it, and we’ll see him do that parade wave all morning long as we await the kickoff of our favorite football team.

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Brad Means

The Means Report first aired in January of 2009 offering coverage that you cannot get from a daily newscast. Forget about quick soundbytes -- we deliver an in-depth perspective on the biggest stories. If they are making news on the local or national level, you will find them on the set of The Means Report. Hosted by WJBF NewsChannel 6 anchor, Brad Means, The Means Report covers the topics impacting your life, your town, your state, and your future.