The Concord (N.H.) Monitor, April 8, 2015

What does it mean to live long and prosper?

It's worth thinking about as the baby boom generation heads into retirement and as their parents head into the final stages of life. More and more, people are bombarded with advice on how to stay healthy and vital. Often, it involves eating some sort of food (such as kale or berries) and not eating another kind of food (such as cake or bacon).

Also, exercise. Lots and lots of exercise.

But maybe you should look at the example of Gertrude Weaver, who died April 6 at the age of 116. For less than a week, the Camden, Arkansas, resident held the title of the world's oldest person.

Weaver was active; her family said she attended "wheelchair dances" at her nursing home until last year. She had regular manicures and went to church with her son. But she wasn't a dedicated long-distance runner, and she probably wasn't devoted to an all-natural, organic diet.

She told the Associated Press last year that there were three reasons she had lived so long: "Trusting in the Lord, hard work and loving everybody."

"You have to follow God. Don't follow anyone else," she added. "Be obedient and follow the laws and don't worry about anything."

Her words, homespun as they sound, reflect an understanding of health that's elusive but important. Being healthy isn't just about eating your vegetables and taking brisk walks. Indeed, being the sort of person who eats vegetables and takes walks probably means you don't need their benefits to begin with.

What's most important, perhaps, is one's attitude and outlook on the world.

Through her faith, Weaver had found a way to square herself with the world. Life throws enough challenges at people to disrupt the most stringent exercise regimen. The belief and community found in church plays a vital role for many. And for Weaver, they led to an almost Zen outlook.

"Don't worry about anything," she said, setting a worthy if difficult goal.

Next on her list: hard work. In other words, live with purpose. It's been shown over and over that those who age best continue to do things that engage them mentally. The popular stereotype of retirement — leaving work at 65 with a gold watch — too often leads to both physical and mental stagnation.

Finally, Weaver advised people to love everyone. Your relationships with others are keys as you grow older. Your family, friends and community members are the ones who have your best interests at heart. And if they're invested in healthy living and positive choices, you will be as well.

Studies about health come and go. They will inform us of the benefits of taking fish oil (since disproved), or avoiding fats (it actually depends on the kind of fat, and perhaps not even then), or the benefits of vigorous exercise (one recent study suggested that low-impact was better). And it can be fun to pay attention to this kind of information if you don't take it too seriously.

But when it comes to your own well-being, what matters is less what you eat and how you exercise and more what you think and who you know. Are you positive and relaxed about the future? Are you surrounded by people who love and care for you?

As Gertrude Weaver knew, those are the most important questions of all.

The Portland (Maine) Press Herald, April 10, 2015

It was the ultimate feel-good story: Christine Royles, a South Portland woman in need of a new kidney, puts her request on her car window, spurring Josh Dall-Leighton of Windham, a man she'd never met, to offer to be a donor. Tests confirmed that he was a strong potential match; surgery was set for May at Maine Medical Center.

Now the operation has been put on hold over Maine Med's concerns about a fundraising effort for Dall-Leighton. At a news conference April 9, hospital officials said they want the transplant to take place but first must make sure that no laws designed to prevent the sale of organs are being broken.

However it's resolved, this impasse is emblematic of a nationwide problem: the vast shortage of donated organs and the desperation of those in need. There's no one remedy, but steps can be taken at the federal level to encourage donations and begin to dismantle barriers to helping very sick people.

At issue is an online campaign by a friend of Dall-Leighton that's raised nearly $48,000 to help support the donor, a father of three, and his family while he's recovering from surgery.

The average estimated cost of making a live kidney donation is $6,000, including transportation, time lost from work and child care. So although it's clear that profit is not a motive for Dall-Leighton, what to do with the excess money raised is a major concern, given that federal law bars living organ donors from being paid for expenses before they donate.

Organ recipients are allowed to reimburse donors after the surgery, but this raises another issue. While tens of thousands of Americans could benefit from a live donation, few potential live donors can afford to spend the money first and then await reimbursement.

Bioethicist Sigrid Fry-Revere calls this a "financial disincentive" to donation. She wants to amend federal law to allow a prepaid debit card-based system "enabling government programs, private medical charities and other people to cover donors' expenses as they occur."

This is a proposal that deserves further study. While nobody supports dismantling safeguards against allowing rich patients to exploit the poor for their organs, we must also acknowledge that the current system has disadvantages for both low-income donors and low-income recipients.

This is not to downplay the importance of posthumously donated organs. But fewer than 1 percent of people who die each year in the U.S. are healthy enough or close enough to a hospital at the time of death to donate their organs — and 75 percent of this group does so anyway.

So although campaigns to encourage people to donate their organs after death are commendable, they're not enough to fill the gap. We can't afford to overlook ideas for increasing the pool of viable live donors if we truly want to help those to whom the gift of an organ may make the difference between life and death.