For 20 years, the organization has been offering affordable housing to patients undergoing heart transplant treatment in BC.
The non-profit society is completely run by volunteers like Elizabeth. They operate two fully-furnished suites in Vancouver, and work to house recipients during their post-surgical recovery. Elizabeth hopes also to raise greater awareness of the service the Society provides for heart transplant and VAD (ventricular assist device) recipients.
2021 was your 10-year heart anniversary. How did you celebrate?
I had an angiogram – woot! Seriously, I did, BUT I also took myself on a nice hike. Walking was a very slow and laborious process leading up to my transplant, and being able to go for walks and hikes is one of the things I treasure now.
On each anniversary I make some extra time to think about and thank my donor and his family – you try to honour the gift every day, but anniversaries are landmarks.
They are a turning point for both sides: so much joy on my side, so much grief on theirs. Therefore, I give myself the time to grieve a young life cut short, a life of promise unfulfilled. This year will be no different there, but also remembering that for his family, it is also 10 years without him, without witnessing and being a part of his growing into a young man.
What are some important milestones you have been able to accomplish and be a part of post-transplant?
I spent three days heli-hiking in the Bugaboos with my sister and her husband 11 months after my transplant. It was very special for me because this trip was initially planned one year before my transplant but was postponed because I was barely able to walk, let alone hike. It was an amazing experience and so much fun!
My husband and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary and are looking forward to being able to actually do something for our 30th, hopefully post-pandemic. I have also just turned 60, which means I have also been able to celebrate each of my siblings' 60th birthdays and my father's 90th. I have a two-year-old great niece and five-month-old great nephew who I get to spend time with too.
Can you tell us about two other major events that happened for you post-transplant?
Two years after my transplant, I woke up to a series of odd, harsh sounds coming from our living room. I went downstairs and found my husband choking on the couch. I called the ambulance, gave him a variation of the Heimlich manoeuvre, and managed to clear his airways. He then had a small heart attack. I proceeded with what I knew of CPR, and he came around. He was able to walk out with the ambulance attendants and ended up receiving a balloon angioplasty.
We always say that my donor saved both our lives.
Also, for the last few years of my mother's life, I was able to help my father and be part of her end-of-life care. My mother had dementia and Alzheimer's, and my father was her primary care giver. My transplant allowed me to spend more time with my mother and give my father time for a break when I visited.
What is your favourite part about volunteering with BC Transplant?
This is a tough one! I do love going to the hospitals during Transplant Heroes Week and Operation Popcorn to thank all our health care teams, but I think I most enjoy going out to speak to groups about organ donation. I really enjoy talking to people, so combining that with raising awareness and removing misconceptions people have about the process and the result of transplantation is a big bonus!
I was also asked to speak to a couple of classes of students at an ESL school in Vancouver. Both classes were lovely, but one was just such a happy group, and so curious about the whole transplant process and the journey a recipient takes to, and after, transplant. Many of the details are fuzzy, but I remember we did a lot of laughing, and that is the best kind of speaking engagement you can have.
What message do you want to share with people who might be interested in volunteering with BCT?
Volunteering with BCT is incredibly rewarding and there are so many facets to it:
Describe what being able to sing has meant for you.
I have always sung; I am always happy singing and it is just part of who I am. I was afraid the surgical procedure might damage my vocal cords and even asked my cardiologist if I could get smaller tubes in my throat any time they had to do a procedure. I don't know if that ever happened, but I can and do still sing! Post-transplant, I have been able to sing in choirs, with my oldest brother, and have taken vocal jazz lessons.
I also got to sing in Carnegie Hall! It was in a choir as part of a festival of sorts, and not a huge event, but it was Carnegie Hall! The whole trip to New York was so much fun, and it was incredible to be on such a fabled stage, singing.
Do you have a message you want to share with your donor/donor family?
There are no words to adequately express the gratitude me and my family feel toward you, our donor and donor family. I have received such an extraordinary gift, and over the past 10 years have tried to honour the memory of my donor by giving back through volunteering and service, and by enjoying the life I have been given.
My husband and I have been able to do some of the travel we planned, and even through the pandemic we have enjoyed going out and exploring our city and region. Always mixed with our gratitude is the knowledge and understanding of where my gift of life has come from. We have never forgotten your loss. I always hope you are doing well and wish you as much joy as you have given.