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21. #50YearsofTransplant: Paul Lee

Paul Lee started his morning like any other day until he suddenly felt extreme abdominal pain. He went into the ER thinking it was indigestion; little did he know he would wake up a week later with a liver transplant.
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Can you tell us about what led to you needing a transplant?

"The medication I was taking for my Rheumatoid arthritis inflamed my liver and destroyed it but I actually was not aware of this fact at all.  One day I randomly started getting extreme abdominal pain so my daughter took me to the ER. I thought it was just indigestion but upon arriving I lost all consciousness. All I personally remember from this entire experience is that I went into the emergency for abdominal pain and I woke up with an organ transplant."

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

"I was not conscious during the time of the procedure but after I woke up, it was very shocking to hear what had happened in the last week. It was way beyond my imagination."

What was the day like when you received news that there was a liver match for you? Can you touch on what those emotions were like?

"My family went through the most difficult time during the incident; it came with shock, confusion, and intense trauma. One second I was okay and then suddenly I was unconscious and needing a transplant. I asked my wife, Jane, to answer this question."

"Paul spent a week at the Surrey Memorial Hospital emergency as they tried to figure out what was happening to him. On the fifth day, his condition deteriorated further and they transferred him to the ICU. This is where we learned that Paul had a liver failure due to his medication and only a transplant could save his life.  Paul was then transferred to VGH where we met with the doctors at the transplant clinic to discuss next steps. They comforted us saying that they are searching for an organ and hopefully we will find one soon. We did know how difficult it was to find a match in a narrow time frame so we were very worried but we believed that miracles do happen and so we all prayed for one. The next morning we got a call from the transplant team and honestly it felt like the light at the end of a long dark tunnel. It was unthinkably the worst ten days of my life."

How has your quality of life been since receiving transplant?

"It is like comparing the light to the dark, I recovered really fast so I returned back to my normal life pretty quickly. All three of my children also got married after the transplant so I am very grateful to my donor and the family for this second chance at life. They allowed me to walk my daughter down the aisle at her wedding and watch my son get married as well. Today I have five grandchildren, it's a blessing to be here and watch them grow up."

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

"It is really important! Whenever I have a chance, I talk to people about registering their decision. I also volunteer with BC Transplant periodically as I would not be here without my donor and BC Transplant."

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

"I am very thankful to all of the medical staff, as without them this miracle would not have happened. I would like to thank all of the nurses, doctors, lab technicians, and there are so many other people who were involved in the process of my experience. Even within BC Transplant, the teams that encourage registrations and do all the other work are also very important. It is an ongoing process so the medical staff that is treating me after the surgery is also as amazing. I still go see the doctor and thankfully my liver is doing great."

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

"This is wonderful! I call it a miracle for myself, but imagine in the last 50 years, this miracle happened to so many people in BC. I think it is mentioned on the website that today there are over 4500 people alive due to transplantation, this is an amazing number. I hope more and more people will become aware of the importance of organ donation and transplantation and especially the importance of registering. I know that when I talk to people about organ donation, they have heard about it but they haven't had the chance to actually register so I believe we should keep encouraging people to register."

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