My journey to transplant began just following my 40th birthday. My husband and I were high school sweet hearts and had been married for 20 years. Our daughters were 9 and 15 and were both doing well. My husband and I both had jobs that we loved. For the first time, I really felt that life was perfect.
I had just one small problem: for about a month I had noticed that my hands and feet were constantly itchy. I didn't think much of it, in fact I just ignored it but when I began waking up in the night itchy all over I knew I had to see my Dr. I just thought that I had an allergy to something, but when I went in to see him he ordered a blood test. He called me the next day and told me that I needed to come in immediately, something was very wrong. Turns out I had a rare auto-immune liver disease called Primary Billiary Cirrhosis. He said there was no cure and no treatment for this disease and that eventually it would completely destroy my liver. They would monitor my blood levels and once I had about one year to live, I would be placed on the waiting list for a life-saving liver transplant.
My husband and I were shocked and for a short time we thought they had made a mistake in the diagnosis. I had always been completely healthy. I had never been able to drink alcohol as it always made me sick. I lived a very healthy life style, jogging every morning before work. We soon discovered it was not a mistake as I became sicker and had to start giving up things in my life that I loved—like working and running.
I knew how important it was to stay as healthy and strong, so I kept going for walks as long as I could so when the time came, I’d have the best chance possible. In our home we tried to create a new normal as my illness progressed and daughters grew.
My disease progressed over a seven year period but in the end everything crashed much faster than the Dr's could anticipate. By the time my husband and I saw the transplant surgeon he said it was too late. He didn't think they'd be able to find a donor in time. Five days following our appointment I landed in Emergency. Everything worsened throughout that day and we believed it was the end. I was preparing to say goodbye to my husband and our children when in a moment everything changed for us. My donor family had come forward and made the selfless decision to reach out to help complete strangers.
When I woke up in ICU following my transplant I couldn’t believe I was alive. I had lost my entire blood volume the night before and the surgery had lasted 11 hrs. I had been given a second chance when I thought there was no chance. My husband later told me that he was allowed to see me before I was conscious and he could already see pink blotches emerging on my bright yellow face. Within two hours of receiving this gift my new liver was already working, removing toxins from my body.
Since my transplant, I’ve been able to accomplish many things. When I was 8 months post-transplant I joined the gift of life transplant dragon boat team and we all raced together to honour our donors and families. A few years later, I traveled to London, Ontario, and joined transplant recipients from around the world to participate in the Transplant Games, where I won my running race in honour of my donor family. They now have that medal and I hope they'll always look at it as a symbol of hope and my deepest gratitude to them.
Since receiving this gift, I’ve also been able to finish raising my daughters. Together my husband and I walked our oldest daughter down the aisle as she married the man of her dreams. I have been present in the delivery room to welcome our two youngest grandsons into this world. My husband and I have now been married for 43 years and have been blessed with six grandchildren. Being a Grandma has been the most joyful experience of my life.
The tragedy and the miracle of organ donation will always be intertwined in the hearts and minds of all transplant recipients. We never forget who gave us this second chance of life. We always remember the cost of that gift to our donors and their families.
Watch Susan talk about her transplant journey on our YouTube page