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‘He was giving one more gift’: Man, 98, believed to be oldest US organ donor

Orville Allen, pictured hugging his great-grandson, is said to be the oldest American ever to donate an organ upon death (Linda Mitchelle via AP)
Orville Allen, pictured hugging his great-grandson, is said to be the oldest American ever to donate an organ upon death (Linda Mitchelle via AP)

A 98-year-old man may be the oldest American to ever donate an organ, according to transplant organisations.

Orville Allen lived a lifetime of service, and when he died he had one last thing to give: his liver.

Mr Allen was a veteran of the Second World War and the Korean War and a longtime educator in Missouri. He died on May 29 and his liver was successfully transplanted into a 72-year-old woman, according to Mid-America Transplant.

He was in robust health until he suffered a fall while picking up storm debris at his home in Poplar Bluff on May 27, his daughter, Linda Mitchelle, said.

He struck the back of his head and was flown to St Francis Medical Centre in Cape Girardeau.

Swelling around Mr Allen’s brain could not be healed. As the family was preparing to say goodbye, hospital staff had a question: Would they consider donating his liver?

Given Mr Allen’s age, it was a question that caught the relatives by surprise. But surgeons had examined him and determined the organ was acceptable for transplant.

Knowing their father’s nature – always the first to check in on people, always at the doorstep of a neighbour in need – the siblings did not hesitate.

“It turned it from being such a sad loss of our dad to having this little ray of joy because he was doing what he’d done all his life,” Ms Mitchelle said. “He was giving one more gift.”

Previously, Cecil Lockhart, of West Virginia, was the oldest person to donate an organ upon death, according to the Centre for Organ Recovery and Education, which co-ordinated recovery of his liver. He was 95 when he died in 2021, and his liver was successfully transplanted to a woman.

Orville Allen holding his great-granddaughter at her baptism
Orville Allen holding his great-granddaughter at her baptism (Linda Mitchelle via AP)

More people than ever are getting new organs, according to data from the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), a non-profit organisation that has run the transplant system under a government contract for nearly four decades.

Last year was a record year for donations from the deceased – more than 16,000 – and for the number of organ transplants performed (more than 46,000), according to UNOS. Liver transplants topped 10,000 for the first time ever.

Mr Allen was a pilot in the Army Air Corps in the Second World War, then served in artillery communications in the Army 1st Cavalry Division in the Korean War. After the wars, he spent 27 years in the Army Reserve, retiring as a lieutenant colonel.

He also farmed and taught vocational agriculture at Neelyville High School, near Poplar Bluff, for nearly four decades. He and his wife of 70 years, Geraldine, who died in 2019, had three children, three grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

He never got around to signing up to be an organ donor, but the family said they hope his story spurs more people to register.

In fact, they said, it already has.

“A whole bunch of people at the visitation and funeral who were former students and friends said, ‘You know what? I’m going to put donor on my driver’s licence right now’,” Ms Mitchelle said.

Greg Allen, one of Mr Allen’s sons, said the ability to donate their father’s organ was uplifting in an otherwise sad time.

“To me, it’s just a wonderful thing to be able to help somebody else, anybody else, to extend their life for their family,” he said.