These are pictures from our family get together yesterday. After Mark and I finished doing the dishes from the wonderful dinner my mom prepared, I went outside to see where all the kids had run off to. They were in the park across the street climbing trees and playing with my dad. This is the scene that brought tears to my eyes.
You see, a year ago my dad was suffering from advanced pulmonary fibrosis (a hardening of the lung tissue). He had never smoked and was in great shape (outside of his lungs), so the diagnosis came as quite a surprise to all of us.
By last spring he could barely work in his yard, in his garage or walk very far without breaking into coughing fits and feeling very exhausted. He was on oxygen 24 hours a day and so playing with his 3 grandchildren was no longer physical but had become very stationary and sporadic.
There is no cure for PF, although one course of action is a lung transplant, if the person is healthy and young enough. At 67 he was still eligible, (in Canada he was eligible until 70 years of age) if he was healthy enough. I had never even heard of a lung transplant until my dad told me this story one day shortly after he went on oxygen.
"He and my Mom were shopping at a neighborhood thrift store, which they often do, and a woman approached him and bluntly asked why he was on oxygen. He explained that he had pulmonary fibrosis. She then told him that her husband had had that 5 years ago but underwent a lung transplant and was doing fantastic now. And then she left."
When my Dad told me this story, we both agreed that it was a sign that he was meant to have a transplant and everything would be OK. (The prognosis for people with PF is usually around 3-5 years, and my dad had been already been diagnosed 5 years earlier). My dad eventually went through 6 weeks of daily hospital tests and did qualify for a transplant because of his good health. In November 2007 he officially went on the transplant list, but of course we were worried that he may not find a match in time.
Then on a Saturday morning in June, 2008, he got a call from the hospital saying that a person who had died, had donated their organs and that it was a perfect match for my dad. When he called to tell me, I realized that I never thought that that day would actually come. It was the most frightening day of my life. Believe it or not I had two caricature gigs booked that day and since his operation wouldn't take place immediately, I actually held it together enough to draw at both of them.
That night, he underwent a double lung transplant—a 10+ hour operation (entirely paid for by our amazing health care system) and at 4 am the doctor called my Mom and I to let us know that my dad was doing wonderful, the operation was very successful and and that he was in recovery now.
Within 4 days he was completely off oxygen and then discharged from the hospital 2 weeks and one day after his operation. His doctors and nurses were absolutely amazing and he has done a terrific job of doing exactly what he is supposed to do— eating well, exercising and taking his medication (with my Mom's unwavering support).
He is so healthy now, that its easy to forget how limited his life was a year ago. It wasn't until I remembered that last Easter all he could really do was sit on the couch and watch things, that it has really hit home. My parents are both very special people to me (and to Mark and my kids) and having this extra time to spend with my Dad is something I will always be grateful for.
Deceased donor information is kept confidential in Canada so we were never told who that generous person was. I often wonder about them and am so thankful that they (and their family) have made this possible for our family. I feel very sorry for their loss and that their family is celebrating this holiday without their loved one, but by donating all the organs possible, they have given many families something that we are eternally grateful for.
If anyone questions whether it makes a difference or not to sign your organ donor card—I can guarantee you that it has made a huge difference in our lives.
Please sign your donor card.