Organ and tissue donation is central to our next play, THE TIN WOMAN. Main character Joy receives a heart transplant before the play begins, and throughout the story, we watch her grapple with having a second chance at life. Her saving grace is only possible thanks to someone else’s ultimate sacrifice and a family’s loss. Playwright Sean Grennan based the play on real events, and for some perspective, we sat down to talk with Tanya Trimborn, a real-life donor family member whose son gave the gift of life.
A: My son, Cai Benavides, was 22 years old when he became an organ donor. When he was little, I would take him everywhere with me. I was a single mother and I did my best to raise him.
We went to the DMV when he was like 7 or 8 – I had to renew my license. He said, “Mom, what’s that orange dot? Let me see,” and snatched the license right out of my hand! I told him that the orange dot signals to somebody that if something should happen to me and I cannot live anymore, I want them to use what I can’t take with me—my organs—and give them to someone else who needs them. So they can live a longer and happier life with their family. Cai just seemed to get things quicker than other kids, and he said, “that’s a really good thing that you’re doing, Mom,” and that was that.
When he was a young adult, he had a very difficult time, and by the age of 18, he struggled with drug addiction. He was such an incredible kid, and it was sad to see that drugs took him down a different path. However, in the fall of 2017, Cai had completed a rehab program, he was in a sober living facility, attending NA meetings and doing all the little things he needed to do to put his life back together. That meant we could spend more time together as a family.
He and I had a chance to sit and chat one day and he went, “look what I did!” He pulls out his wallet and he shows me his ID and I saw the orange donor dot. I was like, “dang Cai, I’m so proud of you. You’re thinking of other people, it’s incredible that you’re doing that.”
In February of 2018, I got the call that he was in the ICU. He had no brain activity because of a drug overdose and was on life support. On February 12, they proclaimed him brain dead, and on February 14 – Valentine’s Day and National Organ Donor Day – my son became an organ donor himself. He donated both of his kidneys and his liver. I always say his addiction does not define who he was: his love, his kindness, his tenderness carries through that.
A: I withdrew into myself, as one would do when you lose your only child. I was very critical of myself and felt like I had failed somehow. But I was always very proud that Cai was an organ donor. At his memorial, I had contacted Versiti (a non-profit that facilitates organ and tissue donations, as well as blood donations and research) to have “Donate Life” pins and stickers for people to take as a memento and a reminder of Cai’s legacy.
I knew that I had to participate to celebrate his legacy and the love I had for my son. At first I couldn’t speak about it – I was going into the Versiti office and helping stuff kits and envelopes. Or I would sit at a table, participating in conversation and being around people who had been affected by organ donation. Eventually, I started to feel comfortable enough to share.
For me, my healing and my path has been going through small moments of volunteering with Versiti, taking part in events and sharing Cai’s story. It was also doing artwork. I created an ofrenda for Cai. It really, really helped me – I had to think about things that I hadn’t thought about in a long time or that I hadn’t allowed myself to think about. (An ofrenda is the offering placed in a home altar during the annual Mexican Día de Muertos celebration. Cai’s ofrenda includes marigolds, pictures of him, locks of hair and other items with meaning.)
Versiti, as an organization, has really assisted in allowing me the space to heal. I have never felt stifled, they have given me the space to participate in the things I want to participate in. They have helped me find my voice to speak. They have given me the strength to speak up about Cai and my loss. As an organization, they’re just great.
A: There was a little something in every character that I connected with. The lead character, Joy – her withdrawing into herself, I connected with that. How do you take something when you know someone else has sacrificed? When that someone has sacrificed the ultimate thing and they can’t be with their family? The way she has internalized it and pushed people away, I could see and understand that.
The hippy-dippy sister who sees signs in everything and who wants to please and make everybody happy, that’s me. It was hard to realize that I couldn’t make everybody happy after Cai passed away. I was constantly looking for those moments to show that Cai was still with me.
I connected with the nurse because of the nurses who were in the ICU with Cai. Through all the trauma that was happening on a daily basis, they were still there for our family – I saw what incredible people they were.
The mom allowing her husband the space to grieve the way he needs to, is so important. And the dad – I really identified with him. If the last conversation you have with someone is difficult, it can cause a ton of pain and guilt after they have gone. One of my last conversations with Cai I told him, “I know you think you can handle this, but one day your body may not be able to.” I understand EXACTLY where the father is, what he’s going through, because those words have repeated often in my mind after Cai died. The pain I felt was unbearable.
This play touched every single part of how I feel about going through organ donation with my son.
A: It’s all about love. It’s all about connection and interacting with other people. It’s about communication. I can’t take [my organs] with me, and I want to give them to other people – that’s a kind thing to do. It’s a loving thing to do. Organ donation is just a moment of love, and it makes the world better.
As an employee of Print-n-Press, Tanya Trimborn has printed countless items for Next Act – including our latest newsletter! Tanya is also a volunteer with Versiti, sharing the story of her son’s organ donation. Among other appearances, she was the Donor Family Speaker for the 2022 Gift of Life Ceremony at the Wisconsin Governor’s Residence.
Tickets for THE TIN WOMAN are now on sale at https://nextact.org/shows/the-tin-woman/?tickets. This production is offered live at 255 S. Water Street. Performances run November 23 – December 18, 2022.