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16. #50YearsofTransplant: Brian Parsons

Brian Parsons received a new heart 11 years ago. After his transplant, he has been able to go back to work as a firefighter, watch his grandkids grow up and ultimately have a new chance at life.
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Can you tell us what led to you needing a transplant?

"In the summer of 2006 I noticed that I was starting to become short of breath and developing a cough so I went to see a doctor and they did a bunch of tests as well as an echo.  This is where they determined that I was in late stages of a heart failure. At that point I was still okay, but further testing determined that my heart was enlarged. The doctors diagnosed it as idiopathic cardiomyopathy and it went downhill from there."

What were some of the things that went through your mind thinking about the procedure?

"I was actually pretty happy that they were going to do it because up until then, my quality of life kept getting worse and worse. So it was either try to live with the way things were or get a transplant and have that option of living a normal functioning life again. I was pretty happy when they listed me for a transplant and discussed the procedure as well as other details."

Can you describe the day when you found out there was a heart match for you? What were those emotions like?

"It was February of 2008 and honestly, it was a whirlwind! Typically they'll fly you down and then you get prepped for transplant. Of course there is still a possibility that you won't get it depending on the heart that they're going to transplant into you. Excitement would be one thing; maybe a little apprehension as well. My situation was a little different than most people; I ended up driving down with my wife because no planes were available. Luckily, one of the people on the transplant team knew one of the financial managers at TELUS and they had a jet that was flying back into the province that day.  So after getting clearance, they actually used their jet to fly the transplant team to Kelowna to get the organs and flew them back to VGH. It was a big deal at that time as there was uncertainty around getting the organs to VGH on time. TELUS also shared a story around this showcasing their support for organ donation. Walking into the hospital that day, checking in and then waiting for the transplant was basically a light at the end of the tunnel."

How has your quality of life been since receiving transplant?

"Oh there is no question; my quality of life has changed significantly. Before my transplant, I couldn't walk up half a flight of stairs before running out of breath. After the transplant, I wouldn't say it's 100% but it's awfully close. I managed to go back to doing everything I did previously, I went back to my job as a firefighter and there were some people who said I would never be able to do that again but I proved them wrong. That was one of my goals actually to go back to work post-transplant. So yes, quality of life has drastically improved and there are no doubts that it was the best thing that could have happened."

Having seen the miracle of transplant so closely, how important is organ donation and discussing one's decisions with family and friends?

"I think it is extremely important. I was a registered organ donor before the transplant as well and I am a huge advocate of organ donation. I teach first aid when I'm not a firefighter and I always bring it up in class and try to talk to people about it. If these people are taking a first aid course and wanting to help people, another way they can help people is by discussing organ donation. I will also pass along the website if they're interested and many of them will go on there and become an organ donor I hear. So I think it's extremely important, I actually think it should be the opposite where you don't register to be an organ donor, you have to opt-out instead."

What would you like to say to the medical teams that are so vital to the success of transplantation in our province and particularly in your own experience?

"Well that's a hard question because you can say thank you and I'm sure they get that all the time. But is that enough though? They've changed your life drastically, so at times saying thank you seems insignificant for what they've actually done. I have talked to many of my doctors that were involved, obviously the cardiac team and everyone else. I am extremely grateful and I have let them know that as well. It is really important that people acknowledge them and give them credit for what they've done as it is truly an amazing thing."

Have you tried connecting with your donor family?

"I did meet the brother of my donor a few years ago; he came up to Vernon so I met him. It was an emotional thing more so for him because he lost his brother and then he was able to see what his brother had done as a donor, how it affected me and how it affected other people who received the other organs. I believe they have met most of their recipients now."

What is your perspective on BC's milestone of 50 years of donation and transplant?

"I think it's amazing! 50 years is a long time to go into advancement, the drugs and everything. People tend to have better, longer lives after transplantation so it's not a short-term thing for most people. I am going into my 11th year now so it's been amazing. It's incredible because there are over 8000 people alive since 1968 due to organ donation and of course increasing every month, it's incredible!"

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