Until I met John in 2017, I hadn’t met anyone in need of a major organ transplant.
At that time, I was working for a non-profit organization called Hope Air. The organization offers free flights for Canadians to travel outside the local community for access to specialized medical care. John, a cancer patient who was waiting for a liver transplant, was the client. He had to abandon the liver available from a donor who died in Toronto because he couldn’t reach the transplant center in time.
I clearly remember the day when his second chance came. He already called us on his way to the airport. My colleague and I had booked his flight by the time he arrived at the check-in desk.
He arrived in Toronto before his new liver was ready, and the generosity of his deceased donor extended his life.
Like most people, I filled out the organ donor consent form that came with my driver’s license. I hope that someday the donation will be my legacy. Then, in early 2019, I had a conversation with a friend who recently graduated from medical school. Meanwhile, I talked about this experience. I was surprised at the story I heard from my friend. Many who register for organ donation after death do not die in a way that facilitates major organ donation.
We also learned that many recipients of transplanted organs, even if successful, will need another organ transplant in the future. This information changed my life. I was seriously thinking about becoming a post-mortem organ donor. So why didn’t you take it seriously at the age of 24 now?
It was the beginning of a long, bumpy, pandemic-interrupted vehicle that was tested in the Living Donor Program at the University Health Network in Toronto to anonymously give kidneys to strangers.
Two months after I submitted my application, I was moving from Toronto to Montreal when the donor team called me. I told them I was willing to do whatever I still needed. I wanted to know if there was a “match” somewhere, but I quickly realized that there wasn’t a shortage of potential recipients for those who donated to the most in need.
I learned that future donors (such as spouses and friends) may even have the opportunity to start a “donation chain” where they can donate their kidneys to those who are already excluded as matches. It An incompatible donor becomes someone else’s donor.
For over a year, I had a series of blood and urine tests, a physical scan, and an interview with the donor team. Before the pandemic, I returned to Toronto every other week for an appointment. At that time I was in a graduate course. I remember going to the airport from class on Tuesday afternoon and returning to school on Thursday morning to class.
Throughout the process, I often joked that donating kidneys to strangers was like being a competitor. Bachelor’s degree: People always want to know that you are “doing it for the right reason”. My reason wasn’t much different from why people exercise in the gym or eat a healthy diet. I wanted to help my body achieve what I wanted to do in my life: to live. Open both hands.
And while I didn’t have the illusion of saving someone’s life alone, I wanted to give someone more time as a gift. I thought of my father who died of cancer when I was a kid. All he wanted was a little more time.
I was disappointed when my appointment was suspended in March due to a pandemic, a weekend just after a donor education session, a CT scan, and a chest x-ray. I devoted myself to doing as much research as possible on the donor process and results.Over and over again, through letters of recommendation, news articles, and scientific research, I saw the same modestness from successful donors: “I’m healthy, ambitious, and competent – why Do not Do i do this? “
Their beliefs gave my friends and family the courage to defend my decision. Some understood, some were worried, others were worried about my happiness. Over time, I began to get used to the idea that I could really be a donor. When my mother emailed me information about the donor’s state medical leave policy, I felt I had reached a turning point with my family.
I had a friend who came to my schedule and I was worried about holding my hand before the examination. Other friends have declared to me that when that time comes, we will have a “kidney goodbye party”.
In fact, I was excited when the appointment was finally resumed in September. After that, at the end of December, I learned that I could not donate because of the great health risk, and I lost my qualification as a donor candidate. It was difficult news to receive. Still, I can’t regret having tried it. And I am grateful that this experience has taught me about kindness, faith, tenacity, and the ability to realize the values I believe in.
Saving lives is the job of many. I read a lot of stories about the people who came in front of me, so I took the courage to do it. I want to keep the door open for the next person.
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