Family’s Faith Creates Lifesaving Legacy For Loved One
When a family suffers the loss of a loved one, they often turn to their faith for comfort and guidance. Faith sometimes
also plays an important role in a family’s decision to donate the gifts of organs and tissue on behalf of their loved one,
or, to honor their loved one’s decision to become a donor. Such was the case for the family of Alkesh Modi, 52, who passed away in May of 2017 when his body succumbed to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a progressive neurodegenerative disorder also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. In the wake of his passing, Alkesh left behind a loving and devastated family and a lifesaving legacy as an organ donor.
But the road to organ and tissue donation was not a smooth one for the Modi family. They faced a conflict that some families experience when considering organ and tissue donation — the uncertainty about whether their religion supports it. Fortunately, it was the Modi family’s strong Hindu faith that helped guide their decision to donate on behalf of Alkesh.
Alkesh and his wife, Mamta Modi, both registered to become organ and tissue donors. However, they later realized that they mistakenly believed the registry was only for bone marrow donation, not organ and tissue donation. When they realized their misunderstanding, Alkesh and Mamta intended to remove themselves from the list because at the time they believed their religion did not support donation, but Alkesh passed away before they were able to do it.
When Alkesh passed away, Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network representatives informed his family that he was a registered donor, but the Modi family felt strongly about not wanting to move forward with donation.
“At the time we had no idea he was an organ donor,” said Shruti Alkesh Modi, Alkesh’s daughter. “In the Hindu faith, the belief is that you must give back the body that God gave you and burn the entire body intact after death. We were very worried about that when my father died. So, at first, we were conflicted about donation, but we were also just in a bad place, he’d just died.”
Courage And Grace
Alkesh ultimately became an organ donor and several crucial factors helped the Modi family navigate through their difficult time. One, was the collaboration of Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital with Gift of Hope to keep the donation opportunity available to the Modi family by providing them with information, support and guidance. Another was the intervention of Dr. Shashank Atre, who represents the Hindu faith on Gift of Hope’s Interfaith Advisory Council.
“I remember Dr. Atre was really helpful because we were not in the best mental or emotional state,” recalled Shruti. “Having someone who understands your religion and culture made a huge difference. It made us feel at ease.”
Another factor in making donation possible was the courage and grace demonstrated by the Modi family. They remained open and willing to learn more about donation and to discuss the position of the Hindu faith on organ and tissue donation with their spiritual leader. He advised them that the part of the funeral services where the body is blessed and offered up to God could be performed prior to organ recovery at the hospital. His support and guidance significantly helped to ease the Modi family’s concerns.
Lastly, and very significantly, a powerful and determinant factor in the Modi family’s decision to say “yes” to donation, was simply, that they felt that doing so would honor Alkesh’s generous and always helpful spirit.
According to Shruti, everything Alkesh did was for other people. Rather than receiving gifts, what he enjoyed most was offering his help and offering gifts to others.
“If anyone was ever in a situation where they really needed help, he was always there, you wouldn’t even have to ask him,” said Shruti. “We thought about that fact; that he always wanted to help people, that he registered to become a donor to help others. To us, that was the perfect way to culminate his existence, by the act of giving to people.”
Alkesh inspired his family to also continue giving to those in need. After he became an organ donor, the entire family joined the organ/tissue donor registry.
A Family’s Love And Support
Doctors diagnosed Alkesh with ALS in 2016 and his loving family immediately stepped in to help care for him. Throughout the months that followed, Alkesh who worked for the United States Postal Service in the accounting department and served as treasurer of the American Postal Workers Union, continued working as long as he could. Despite his struggle with ALS, Alkesh ran for re-election as treasurer, and with the confidence and support of his family and colleagues won approximately 150 out of the 200necessary votes needed for reelection.
As his illness progressed, Alkesh needed considerable help with daily tasks. To help make sure he was cared for and supported in the best way possible, Mamta’s mother, AsmitaBhatt, and her father, Bhupendra Bhatt, moved in with Alkeshand her. During that time, Shruti and her brother were away at Arizona State University but visited often.
As Alkesh’s illness progressed, the Modi family’s bond grew stronger. They supported one another every day, and according to Shruti, they never lost their sense of humor — especially Alkesh who never missed an opportunity to joke around and make others laugh.
“My grandma would cook for my dad, and my dad and grandpa would hang out and joke around and they became really close,” recalled Shruti. “So, it was a joint effort, and they always did everything for him with smiles on their faces.” Reflecting on her family’s experience with donation, Shruti admits that it was a difficult time, but according to her, the decision brought her family comfort then and continues to do so now.
“We all did benefit from it [donation],” Shruti said. “It took us a little bit of time, but in hindsight I’m really glad that we donated because I know it’s exactly what my dad would have wanted. It’s comforting to us that five of his organs were donated and that a part of him is somewhere out there still living. He’s still here helping people.”