“The days leading up to your transplant were the most difficult I’ve ever experienced in my life,” states a letter addressed to 56-year-old Wade Graham. He re-reads it frequently, noting the balance of happiness and hope that it strikes within grief for the writer - Darren.
Wade knows his story is complex, providing light within darkness. Darren’s partner, Joan Louise Peterson, passed away in June 2018, and her organ donation provided the gift of life to Wade through his double lung transplant.
Born prematurely and contracting a lung disease Wade wasn’t expected to survive when he was four years old – he’s dealt with lung problems his whole life. “I just got used to it,” Wade says, living with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), which led to the initial conversation of a possible transplant.
When he collapsed in his backyard and went on leave from work, the immediacy sharpened. Thirteen months later – after countless tests and the implantation of heart stents – Wade was placed on the waiting list for new lungs.
As he waited, Canadians were devastated by the Humboldt Broncos bus crash in April 2018, when sixteen people were killed in a collision between a coach bus and a semi-trailer truck in rural Saskatchewan.
One of the victims, Logan Boulet, donated his organs and saved six lives – prompting the “The Logan Boulet Effect,” an immediate surge in to organ donor registrations all across Canada.
Joan Peterson was one such person affected by Logan’s generosity – she went to check if she and her partner were registered organ donors.
They weren’t, but they quickly made sure to register.
A little over two months later, Joan passed away suddenly from a brain aneurysm. But her decision to donate her organs would save five more lives – including Wade’s. He had been on the waiting list for an additional year and was constantly out of breath.
Wade went to church on a Sunday and out to the countryside near his home in Nanaimo. He recalls sitting down on a rock where he vocalized that he couldn’t go on like this any longer.
“It had to be one way or the other – but, either way, I was ready,” he says.
While Wade notes that he prayed that no life be taken to save him – the phone rang the next morning and he was told that a match had been found.
“I was never once was scared – all my problems seemed like they were going to be solved that day,” Wade recounts. He had never met the doctor before and commended the entire team for making him feel calm.
After two weeks of recovering in the hospital, Wade was released.
“I was lost after that for a while,” he admits, trying to gain a new lease on life and come to terms with the donation.
Through BC Transplant, he was able to write a letter to his donor’s family – all done anonymously. He did not receive a reply but was told by the program coordinator that his donor’s partner had received the letter and planned on sending a reply.
On April 7, Green Shirt Day, which honours Logan Boulet’s gifts of life and creates awareness for organ donation, Wade received a response.
“The loss had really affected him,” Wade says, but their connection and seeing how Joan had helped someone so profoundly made it more bearable. Wade has since gotten to know his donor through BC Transplant’s direct contact program, and has been able to communicate with her family and friends.
“Joan was one of the nicest people; so kind and apparently put everyone before herself,” he says.
(Joan Peterson, Wade's organ donor)
In the letter, Joan’s partner Darren writes, “I hope your health and life continue to improve and enjoy every moment of your new life to the fullest. Express your love to your family daily cause you just never know.”
As a BC Transplant volunteer and with the hope to enroll others as organ donors on Green Shirt Day and beyond, he is doing just that. “I’m at peace today,” Wade says.
Written by: Ryan Uytdewilligen, BC Transplant Volunteer