Can you tell us what led to you needing a transplant?
"My mom was told I had biliary atresia when I was 10 months old. This is when the common bile duct to the liver is blocked so my liver wasn't getting rid of the proper bile it needed to. They did try one procedure but it was unsuccessful which led to me needing a transplant 30 years ago. My mom was given the choice to wait for a liver transplant or to take me home and enjoy the time she had with me and she decided to go with the transplantation route. The healthcare staff told her she had maybe one to two years with me post-transplant but here I am, 30 years later and doing very well."
Can you describe what the emotional journey was like for your mom?
"She was nervous about what was happening but overall very hopeful that it would go well and last long-term. She mentioned the transplant procedure was around fifteen hours, so it was a long wait to see if it would work out. She also felt very powerless. When you're a parent and you see your child go through this, you're putting all of your faith in a medical team so overall it was pretty scary. When she was waiting during the operation, she didn't want to hear that I wouldn't make it due to my size so it was a stressful time. She felt like she didn't have a choice, but trusted the process."
What was the day like when she received the call that there was a liver match for you?
"We were in Belleville, Ontario at that time and rushed to the hospital immediately when she got the call. She had a couple questions about the donor but of course the doctors weren't allowed to share too many details. We did eventually find out that the liver came from a boy who had an accident and ended up on life support from brain damage. Five people were saved with his organs and his parents made the decision to donate his organs pretty quickly after they decided to let him go."
How has your quality of life been since receiving the transplant?
"It's been up and down but I find myself luckier than some transplant friends I've had over the years. I've had five or six friends who had liver transplants and some of them have passed away. It was harder when I was younger as we had to go back to Ontario for tests and check-ups consistently. I have had some serious rejections, ones where I needed a stent for the blockage in my bile duct and then procedures to attend to the stent. However I have been able to work part-time and do many things that my mom probably thought I would never be able to do. I would have to say my quality of life is pretty great. I am still here and of course there are hills to climb with health problems but I am pretty lucky and grateful to be alive."
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 absolutely important. Over my years, I have had conversations with people who are both for and against organ donation. I try to respect opinions but as a transplant recipient, I always try to share that organ donation is very important. I've had some people ask me, 'You've been through so much negativity in terms of your health; would you go through it all over again?' and I always have said absolutely. I would never wish for anyone to go through the things I've gone through, but at the same time, I've experienced so much positivity and that makes it all worth it. So I believe the pros to organ donation unbelievably outweigh the cons. I also think people should remember that organ donation not only helps the person who receives the organ but it also helps the friends and family who get to keep the person around."
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?
"A massive THANK YOU. I don't think there are any words that properly relay the appreciation I have for not only keeping me here, but keeping other people here. There are countless people here and around the world that are so blessed to have medical teams to treat us all. The doctor who did my transplant is currently practicing in the States but I can't thank him enough for the work he's done. And to my current medical team in Vancouver, unbelievable thanks to them as well. They are making a difference every day for myself and others. They are so amazing and work so hard to make advances overall in medicine. I believe I am proof of that, when I had the transplant, as it was an option to keep me around a little longer. Now transplant is more commonly an option that will allow people to live, grow and experience life."
Have you been in touch with your donor family?
"I have not met my donor family but living in the world today with social media I know it might be possible to find them. However, I think it's incredibly important to respect their decision to remain anonymous. If they wanted to reach out to the people who received the transplants of their son I think they would have found a way. I think the best thing I can do is to continue to advocate for organ donation and to make it clear that their child made an unbelievable difference in the world and that they have given me life literally and I can't thank them enough for what they did and what their child did for me. I have thought about meeting them, speaking to them and thanking them. I feel like I have done that many times in my mind and in my heart and sent so many thank you's out and I think in a way they have received the thank you's."
What is your perspective on BC's milestone of 50 years of donation and transplant?
"I think that is amazing - I believe the sky is the limit in terms of the future. There are so many unbelievable advances I can see happening. In regards to the last 50 years, it is incredible and I am excited to think about others who have received this gift of life. I think it's unbelievably important for the donors to be recognized whether they are living or passed. I believe it's a very brave and noble thing to give up a piece or pieces of yourself to keep someone else alive. I also think it's something that needs to happen more in this country and other countries around the world as there are so many people on the waiting list as we speak. People don't realize until they go through it themselves. Imagine needing a heart, kidney, or liver and being told how long it could be until they received that, it's literally your life on the line. There is so much more that can be done as so many people can be saved through organ donation."