My name is Joanne and I received a life-saving liver transplant in 2013.
In 2007, I had just begun a career as an accountant, when I began to feel constant fatigue and stomach pains. I assumed it was just stress from my new job, but when months passed without any relief, I decided to see my doctor.
After several tests, the diagnosis was confirmed. I had Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis—an autoimmune liver disease that caused my bile ducts to block and scar. I was immediately put on medication to relieve my symptoms and was told I’d need a liver transplant—but maybe in another 30 years.
For the next couple years, all I had to do was take a pill once a day and continue to do all the normal things a young woman in her early twenties would do. But then the stomach pains returned. I was losing tons of weight, going to the bathroom 20 times a day. More tests and procedures were done, where it was determined I had Crohn’s disease which was associated with my liver disease. At the same time, my liver numbers were getting dangerously high. The doctors then recommended putting me on the transplant list.
While I waited for a new liver, my symptoms continued to worsen. They were so bad that I had to stay in bed. I had jaundice, itching, fatigue, nausea, abdominal pain, fever and chills, among countless other symptoms. For months, I continued to suffer while waiting for a transplant.
Then in December 2013, I got the call I’d been waiting for: there was a liver for me. But after waiting around at the hospital for over 13 hours, the reality set in that this may be a dry-run.
There were four of us crammed into half a room, just waiting for someone to take me down to the OR but the hours kept passing. Finally, the doctor came in and just said matter-of-factly that I did not want this liver. A weird calming feeling came over us. I was just okay with it. It just wasn’t the right time; it wasn’t the right liver. So I went home and kept waiting. Luckily, the following week, the right liver came along.
My heart broke for the family that lost their loved one; but I also felt excitement, nervousness, and relief. As soon as I arrived at Vancouver General Hospital (VGH), it was non-stop, and before I knew it, I was being wheeled into the operating room.
After the surgery, it took a while for my liver enzymes to get back down to acceptable levels, but I felt a thousand times better. My new liver was working. I was in hospital for just under three weeks—my fiancé by my side the entire time, sleeping on a small cot night after night, pushing me through the long, hard road to recovery. After a month, I was driving and going out on my own. The little things that most of us take for granted, was a joy for me – I was able to carry a tray from across the food court unassisted and without stopping.
My donor’s last act in this world was to pass on life to me, and the family thought of others in midst of their tragedy. I still cannot fully comprehend it. I think about them constantly, wondering how they’re doing, wishing for their continued comfort and peace. They are everything to me—my heroes. If I could tell them one thing, it would be how grateful I am to have received this special gift, that I will use this second chance to give back and pay it forward in any way I can. I would tell them how I celebrate my donor every day and how much strength my donor has given me, both physically and mentally.
At a young age, my mother taught me the importance of organ donation and as soon as I received that registration form with my driver’s license, I had no hesitations on registering myself as an organ donor, not knowing that only a few years later I would need a new liver. I am so very grateful that someone else had the same thought, to register their decision and save my life.