It may have been 14 years ago, but Kathy Green still remembers the exact moment her transplant journey started. Kathy and her husband were on their way to the Columbia Gorge in Oregon in October 2009, enjoying the many beautiful waterfalls along the way. They arrived at Multnomah Falls, where there is a short hike up to a viewing bridge.
“I sprinted up about 12 steps and felt like my chest had been hit by a brick,” Kathy recalls. “I couldn’t breathe.”
She caught her breath on a nearby bench before eventually making it to the bridge. When she returned home to Victoria and went to the doctor, he told Kathy there likely wasn’t anything wrong, and that she probably “just overdid it” on the hike. But just to be safe, he sent Kathy for a chest X-ray.
A month later, she received a call requesting her to come in for blood work, an urgent CT scan, and a referral to a respirologist.
“That was the beginning of my journey,” Kathy states. “I was eventually diagnosed with pulmonary sarcoidosis, a rare disease caused by inflammation.”
Sometimes pulmonary sarcoidosis doesn’t require treatment and improves on its own. Often, medication can help control the symptoms. But that wasn’t the case for Kathy. She had countless medical appointments, tried many different medications that didn’t work for her, and she even sought out a second opinion. Eventually, she had to go on leave from her job in administration at Royal Jubilee Hospital.
Ultimately, Kathy was told the only treatment left was a double lung transplant. But doctors weren’t sure she would be strong enough to undergo such an intense surgery, so they decided to focus on a single lung transplant for Kathy.
“It took eight months of tests before I was accepted for a transplant. They gave me a pager so I could be reached 24/7 and sent me on my way,” Kathy explains. “During the next eight months, my condition deteriorated to a point where I had to be on oxygen 24 hours a day. I had difficulty walking from one room in my house to the other.”
Finally, in 2013, the call came. It was a Sunday morning at 9:30 a.m. Kathy was told she needed to be at Vancouver General Hospital within the next four hours.
“I hadn’t moved that quickly for months, but we managed to make the noon ferry,” she says with a smile.
Kathy arrived at in Vancouver believing she was there to receive a single lung transplant, but she was shocked to learn that she would actually be receiving a double lung transplant. Though she was worried about the risks, her transplant team assured her she was strong enough.
Kathy says, “It’s hard to describe how I felt going into that room [knowing] I would come out of the room much better than when I went in.”
Kathy was in the ICU for almost two weeks. Finally, the ventilator was removed and she began to breathe on her own. Two weeks later, she was discharged.
Life began anew. But Kathy never forgets how she got to where she is today.
“I wanted to somehow give back,” says Kathy. “I thought that I could educate the public and encourage them to make an informed decision regarding organ donation.”
She now volunteers her time with BC Transplant raising awareness about organ donation at businesses and community events, sharing her story at education sessions and workshops. The 73-year-old retiree also speaks at BC Transplant’s Donor Medal Ceremony, a somber annual celebration honouring deceased organ donors and their families.
But one of her favourite volunteer events is BC Transplant’s Operation Popcorn. She attended the delivery at Victoria General Hospital again this year.
“The joy on the faces of all the health care workers when we arrive is indescribable,” comments Kathy.
Kathy didn’t realize how much work and coordination takes place behind the scenes to make organ donation and the resulting transplants possible. Delivering boxes of popcorn while sharing stories and saying “thank you” is a way for her to give back.
Staff don’t often get to see the people who have been impacted by organ donation, including the transplant recipients who benefit from this amazing gift, and the organ donor families who view organ donation as one of the positive elements in their healing journey.
“I have to give my head a shake when I think about the past ten years,” Kathy says. She recently celebrated this milestone transplant anniversary with friends and family, and is especially grateful to her donor and donor family. “Every year is a bonus after receiving the gift of life.”