I had a pacemaker implanted in 2005 but two years later suffered severe heart failure and ended up with an internal defibrillator. In 2010 the sarcoidosis was discovered, but by then I had already lost a lot of heart function.
In the summer of 2011, I was placed on the transplant list. My heart function had dropped to less than 15%, and I had not done well on a couple of other tests, so it was time. The wait can be anywhere from one day to many years. It’s a balancing act too – the medical team needs you healthy enough to recover well from the transplant, but sick enough to need the transplant. And it all depends on there being a donor who is a match.
I am one of the very lucky ones in that “the perfect” heart became available exactly four weeks later.
When my sister came in to see me just after my transplant, she was amazed. I’m sure I looked pretty bad after that kind of major surgery, with my face puffy and a little yellow, but her comment was, “Wow—you have colour in your cheeks!!”
In a matter of days, I was walking all over the fifth floor. We had to make sure my new heart was working properly, I wasn’t having any reactions to the medication, and that my pain was manageable. I had a few stitches to remove, and they also make sure you can do a flight of stairs before they let you go home.
My husband took me home the seven days after my transplant. At that time, I believe it was one of the shortest stays post-heart transplant at St. Paul’s.
There are no words to adequately express how I feel after receiving a transplant: immense gratitude and joy, but also sorrow for the family who lost a loved one and yet enabled me to live. I think a lot, not just about my donor, but about his or her family and their loss. Without them agreeing to donation, I wouldn’t be here.
As a recipient, I think of my donor every day. Not necessarily in a maudlin way, but at the very least with a little “thank you”, and quite often with awe for the gift they’ve given me and immeasurable gratitude.
When someone becomes an organ donor, they’re not just saving one life. They’re giving back a child his or her mother; a wife her husband; a parent the opportunity to watch their child grow to be an adult; a partner their loved one; siblings the chance to grow up together; or a fiancé the chance to actually walk down the aisle. Transplant doesn’t just affect the recipient – it touches the lives of all those around them, including their family and community.
I consider myself one of the luckiest people alive. I have received an incredible gift, from an act of kindness that surpasses anything I could ever have imagined. I am so grateful; I thank my donor all the time.