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World War II veteran from W.Va. becomes oldest organ donor

By GREG JORDAN, Bluefield Daily Telegraph undefined

WELCH, W.Va. (AP) — A World War II veteran who passed away recently has proven that it’s possible to keep helping others by giving the gift of life and becoming the oldest recorded organ donor in United States history.

Cecil F. Lockhart of Welch was 95 years old when he passed away May 4 after a short illness. He served his country during World War II and contributed to his community by mining coal for more than 50 years, and his desire to serve others continued when his donated liver aided a 62-year-old woman.

The Center for Organ Recovery & Education (CORE) announced Monday that Lockhart’s decision to help others after death made him the oldest recorded organ donor in United States history. This distinction was confirmed by the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS).

Lockhart’s family said he was moved to become an organ donor following the death of his son, Stanley, in 2010, after which Stanley healed the lives of 75 people through tissue donation and restored sight to two others through cornea donation. Cecil Lockhart is survived by Helen Cline Lockhart, his wife of 75 years, his daughter, Sharon White, and his son, Brian Lockhart, as well as three grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

Bill Davis, who is Sharon White’s husband, said that Lockhart served in the Pacific Theater of Operations during World War II, and was “on the ground” during the fighting in the Philippines.

Davis told the Bluefield Daily Telegraph that his father-in-law would be “ecstatic” to know that his decision to become an organ donor has helped a person already.

“Cecil was a very caring and giving man,” Davis recalled.

Basically, Lockhart thought that since he would not need his body after passing away, his organs could go on to help people in need. Davis said that he’s an organ donor, too, and it’s something the family is urging other people to consider. Davis brought up the subject during Lockhart’s funeral.

“I asked people to think about becoming an organ donor in his honor and his memory,” Davis stated. “One of the things is you can do good things with your life even after your life is completed.”

Lockhart’s daughter also spoke about her father’s desire to help others.

“He was a generous person when he was alive, and we are filled with pride and hope knowing that, even after a long, happy life, he is able to continue that legacy of generosity,” Sharon White said. “When my brother was a donor after he passed away a few years ago, it helped my dad to heal. And today, knowing his life is continuing through others really is helping us through our grief, too.”

Davis said that Lockhart was the oldest organ donor on record in the United States and as far as the family knew, the oldest internal organ donor in the world. Besides his liver, patches of his skin will be used to help burn victims and repair cleft palates in children. Even if internal organs are not acceptable, people can still donate skin, body fluid, the corneas of their eyes and other organs, he added.

“The liver can last for a long time and Cecil was in good health at 95,” Davis stated. “He didn’t drink and he didn’t smoke, and he ate the things he should eat and his liver was in very good condition from what the surgeons told me.

One surgeon told Davis that the 62-year-old woman could live to become 95, too.

We’re talking about a functioning adult human being, and that’s just amazing to me,” he said.

Both CORE representatives and Lockhart’s family pointed out there is no age limit for becoming an organ donor.

“There’s no reason not to be an organ donor, and he proved that no matter how old you are, you can still be a donor,” Davis stated.

More than 30 percent of all deceased organ donors in the United States since 1988 have been age 50 or older, according to UNOS data. And it’s a trend that’s rising.

So far in 2021, 39 percent of all U.S. deceased organ donors have been age 50 or older, according to UNOS. That is up more than 8 percent from just 20 years ago. Seven percent of deceased organ donors since 1988 have been age 65 or older. In the last 20 years, 17 people over age 90 have died and become organ donors in the United States, with the first instance occurring in 2001.

“It’s really not something that just for the young,” said Katelynn Metz, a CORE media representative.

Donations like the one Lockhart made go on help thousands of people.

“CORE is incredibly proud to have been able to make this historic organ donation possible,” said Susan Stuart, CORE president and CEO. “This landmark in the field of transplantation is just another example of CORE’s pioneering legacy and commitment to innovation, which, over the last 40 years, has given 6,000 people in the United States the opportunity to save more than 15,000 others as organ donors.”

The record-breaking donation in West Virginia took place during Older Americans Month, which is observed in the United States every May to acknowledge the contributions of past and current older persons to the country. UNOS Chief Medical Officer David Klassen said that Cecil Lockhart’s contribution is indeed significant – and one that each and every American has the power to achieve as well by registering as a donor.

“Too often, people mistakenly believe there is an age limit associated with being an organ donor,” said Klassen. “The truth is, no one is ever too old or too young to give the gift of life. Every potential donor is evaluated on a case-by-case basis at the time of their death to determine which organs and tissue are suitable for donation. Cecil’s generous and historic gift is a perfect example of that.”

Lockhart served his country during World War II and continued to serve it by mining the coal needed for America’s industry and power generation, Davis said. He kept helping other people after he passed away, and now his family is urging other people to follow his example.

“I look at it this way,” he added. “Jesus told us ‘What you do for the least of these, you do for Me’ and if I give an organ – a piece of skin, an eye cornea – for another human being, I’m doing what He told us to do.”

“There is a reason that group of people was called ‘The Greatest Generation,'” Davis concluded. “Because he gave and he gave and he gave, and now it’s our turn.”

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