The Gift Of Life

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During our lifetime, many people come in and out of our lives. If we are lucky, these people inspire us to be better people, set our sights on dreams and empower us to reach for the stars. In my life, I was fortunate to call this person, DAD. 

My dad was an amazing person. He had incredible strength, courage and he faced challenges head on. He had many friends as he could strike up conversation with anyone and have them laughing and within minutes. 

If I was having a bad day, he was always there with a smile and a shoulder to lean on. He always had the answer to my endless questions, even when he had to make up the answer. When I was a kid, I thought he knew EVERYTHING!

He worked hard and always found the good in people. He enjoyed time on his boat and became the president of the boat club he belonged to. After he sold his boat, he bought a trailer and spent time camping with my mom. He loved his family and would do anything for those he loved.

One winter, when I was in my early twenties, Vancouver had a major snowfall. For a city that rarely sees much snow, that isn’t on the mountains, many drivers aren’t particularly great at driving in such conditions. Snow removal, provided by the municipalities, struggle to keep up. Traffic slows to a crawl and side roads become treacherous. 

I was driving to work, normally about a 30 minute drive. On this day, conditions were far from ideal and I found my car sliding all over the road. Having lived in the Prairies, I knew that my dad would be able to handle the road conditions. I decided to pull into a gas station and call my dad for help. Lucky for me he was home from work that day. I told him where I was, he said he was on his way.

About an hour later, I saw him walking up the road to the gas station. I was surprised to see him without his van. It turns out his van handled poorly in the snow so he drove as close to my location as he could then decided to walk the rest of the way. The distance was about four kilometers, in the snow and slush. 

By this point of the day, road conditions began to improve. Giving me a pep talk and some emotional support, we drove back to his van. I told him how grateful I was that he came to rescue me. I drove off to work and he went about his day. 

Later, I learned that he had been experiencing shortness of breath and happened to be home that day because he wasn’t feeling very well. I had no idea what a struggle that must have been for him and I realized how strong and determined he was. He never backed down from helping someone who needed it. 

The next year, my father was diagnosed with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF). His mother passed away from it years earlier and sadly, three of his four sisters now have it. The hereditary aspect of it is quite terrifying as IPF has been traced in our ancestry. 

My father was placed on the organ transplant list with BC Transplant Society. No one can say when an organ will come available so it was a waiting game. 

My father became sicker and sicker, waiting for the phone call we all prayed he would receive. His health deteriorated to the point that the doctors were nearing the decision of removing him from the list. Then it happened…

April 23, 2004, I received a call from my mom. “Kandy, we just got the call from the hospital. They have a lung for your dad. Can you drive us to the hospital?” OMG! YES!!!

Hours of surgery, weeks of recovery, an endless intake of anti-rejection medications followed. Without anti-rejection medications, the body determines the new organ is foreign and attacks. It destroys the tissues and kills the organ. 

My dad became focused on the statistics of making it through Year 1, Year 3, Year 5 and Year 10. He talked about the doctors, nurses, staff and patients he met at BC Transplant. I learned how lung recipients had a 50% chance of making it to the fifth year. He was determined to be one of those people. 

Seven years after his transplant, the anti-rejection medications that prevented his body from killing his new lung, prevented his body from battling skin cancer. He had successfully beat it previously, with radiation treatments that left his skin raw and painful. So when it reappeared in 2011, no one expected anything different. 

In August 2011, he underwent testing to determine his ability to endure another round of radiation and possibly surgery to remove the lesions. The news he received was grim. Unfortunately, what started out as skin cancer, moved to his blood stream. His liver became the nesting place for the disease to grow undetected.

At the meeting with the Oncologist, he was given two months to live. Exactly two months from that date was my sister’s birthday. He had beaten expectations before and his focus moved to making it past two months. Making it past my sister’s birthday.

As his health started to decline, he would slip in and out of consciousness. When conscious, he continually asked what the date was. He knew how far he needed to get. Once he stopped gaining consciousness, my mom, his amazing caregiver, would still tell him the date every morning. He continued to fight to make it through. 

October 16, 2011, seven years post transplant, my dad passed away at home, with my mom and his three children by his side. One day past my sister’s birthday. Two months and a day after he was given the news. He did it. He beat the odds!

Without the generosity of his organ donor, my dad would not have met all seven of his grandchildren. They would not have memories of him reading to them when they came to visit. Nor memories of playing Mario Sunshine together on the Nintendo. Nor memories of how much he lit up when family walked into the room. 

I suppose there are many lessons here today. 

One, please fill out your organ donation forms. This can be done online. For Canada at cantransplant.ca and for the United States at www.organdonor.org. I imagine other countries will have websites where you can register. A simple Google search will give you the information you need. You can give the gift of life to someone and change the lives of the recipient and their families. I can never fully express my gratitude for the selfless act of my dad’s donor. 

Two, having a goal kept my dad focused and determined to live. He had many challenges post transplant, it wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine. He knew that he wanted to improve the statistics. I have no doubt that his will to surpass the numbers kept him alive. 

Today I ask that you focus on your goals. Be determined to achieve them. Remember that to be successful, you have to SEE yourself reaching your goal. Feel it in your bones. 

Hug your loved ones. Take lots of pictures and videos. Build as many memories as you can. You’ll be thankful you did. 

BE BIG. BE BOLD. BE BEAUTIFUL. BE YOU!!!