Friday, September 10, 2010

Organ recipient's heartwarming letter exchange with donor family

Organ donors are encouraged to write an anonymous letter to their donor family which is forwarded by their local organ procurement agency. Many, such as I, do not receive a response but this Canadian woman from Ontario, Brianne (Bree) Cordick, did eventually hear back and she has graciously provided both her original letter following her lung transplant in August, 2009 and her reply to her donor family's response that she recently received. These inspirational letters are two of the most powerful expressions of thanks and gratitude to a donor family I have ever read.

Congratulations to Bree on the one-year anniversary of her "gift of life" and we thank her for sharing these letters. Hopefully they will offer inspiration and guidance to others.

Thurs, Oct. 15, 2009
To my donor and their family,
I don’t know who you are, or where you’re from, or how it all happened, but I do know this: whoever you are and whoever you were, you are a hero and you saved my life. To you – the family – by choosing to honor your loved ones wishes; you enabled me to have a life that I never dreamed possible. Because of all of you, I am breathing with two beautiful, perfectly healthy lungs. Because of you, I lived to see my 24th birthday.

Early in the hours of August 7, 2009, I received the much - anticipated ‘call’. After waiting 15 long months on the transplant list, I was beginning to think that it just wasn’t meant to be and that I would be that 1 statistic who would die waiting. I was 23 years old and that was my life. I had a condition called Bronchiectasis, which is the build-up of scar tissue in your lungs, the stretching of your airways, and the destruction of the tiny hair cells that are responsible for removing dust and debris. As a result, the elasticity of the lungs is destroyed and your lung function drops drastically (a week before my transplant my function was 21% out of a predicted value of 100%). Additionally, I was constantly ill with life-threatening lung infections and was on about 5 inhaled and oral antibiotics at a time. With that was the issue of fluid build-up in my lungs. My lungs were so diseased that I didn’t need a stethoscope to hear them; all I had to do was breathe ‘normally’ and the room would fill with the sounds of crackles, wheezes, pops, and other bizarre sounds. My friends joked that I sounded like a rainforest.

I was on oxygen 24/7, and simple tasks like putting socks on, showering, putting shoes on, getting in an out of the car left me gasping. Sometimes, even shifting positions while sitting on the couch left me so out of breath I felt like I would pass out. Next to the gasping was the chronic coughing. I coughed so much that people could identify me simply by hearing it. I couldn’t even laugh because I would be thrown into a fit of coughing and would be unable to catch my breath. As a result, I simply could not fathom a life with perfectly healthy lungs – lungs that didn’t debilitate me in each and every corner of my life. To take a deep breath in was something I had never even had the joy of experiencing...until now.

I don’t know if ‘thank-you’ can truly encompass just how grateful I am for this gift called life. To be honest, I don’t know if I will ever truly be able to wrap my head around this fact: what have I done to be so lucky and so blessed to receive such a precious gift? How can I celebrate each and every day knowing that with every breath I take, there is a wonderful family out there grieving, and I am benefiting from their loss? If there is one, (out of many) things I want you to know, it’s that with every breath I take, I say ‘thank-you’; with every new experience I am fortunate enough to be part of, I say ‘thank-you’. Every morning I wake up, I say ‘thank-you’. Every deep breath I take, I relish. I cannot describe to you the elation I feel when I feel these beautiful creatures expand in my back and inflate all the way to the bottom of my ribcage. To normal people they probably don’t notice something like this, but it makes me stop every time it happens, and I find myself doing it again, and again, and again, just because I can, because it feels good, because once upon a time, I couldn’t. Because taking that breath means ‘life’, and it’s the reminder that due to a complete strangers generosity when their journey on this Earth was completed, they had the forethought to consent to donate and to let someone else benefit from something they enjoyed just as much.

How can I possibly say ‘thank-you’ for something like that? 8 letters isn’t long enough. 8 letters isn’t enough to grab onto all the emotion that I’m feeling as I write this. It isn’t enough to encapsulate the emotions I experience day to day when my donor crosses my mind.

There is much that I want to do to make the most of this amazing experience. I had to take a leave of my university studies when I got listed, and am hoping to resume them in the winter and complete my degree next fall. I want to travel to destinations far and wide. Most exciting of all is that I want to partake in the 2011 World Transplant Games in Sweden in 2011!! It isn’t so much the big things that are most frequently showing up on my list, but the small. I walk daily – for hours on end sometimes – just because I can and because it is so effortless. I look forward to when I can dance again as well. I am looking forward to going to beach with friends and celebrating the small things that took every ounce of effort I had just 2 months ago. But I have to say that next to loving every breath I am fortunate enough to take, laughter is right up there as well. I love laughing now. Gone are the days of the ‘smile and nod’ technique when something funny happened, because if I let myself laugh out loud I would only be rewarded with a huge, disgusting coughing fit. Now – even though no sound comes out yet – I can laugh, and laugh to my hearts content and it feels wonderful. I talk louder, I yell louder (ha ha), and I eat faster because I can breathe and eat at the same time now!! I am also enjoying new things that I never liked before, like seafood. I couldn’t stand the smell or even the thought of consuming a sea creature prior to transplant, but now I fear if I ever go swimming in the ocean, I may just eat something right off the ocean floor.

It is hard for me to think of what to write next, what else to elaborate on because there is so much and yet not enough. While my progress has been wonderful and I’ve been fortunate enough to have no complications, I know that out there you are grieving. If there is one thing I would like you to know, it’s that in all of this, I have not forgotten you, the family. I have lost friends both pre and post transplant, and I also lost one of my best friends in high school, who ended up being an organ donor herself. She alone saved 11 people, so in one small aspect I understand the organ donor card on both sides, being the friend of a donor and now, a recipient. Throughout it all, one thing remains the same: you do not forget.

I guess I should end this letter. I hope that in the process of reading this I have neither hurt nor offended you in any manner. That is not and never was my intent. I would love to hear back from you, but I completely understand if you choose not to respond. Please know you are in my thoughts and prayers daily, even though that most likely doesn’t make your loss any easier. I wish you all the best, and hope that each memory you have of your precious loved one brings a shine to your eyes, laughter to your lips, and a smile big enough to light up the room.

To my donor: I don’t know who you are, or what happened, but I do know this: you are a rock star, and a hero to me. I hope that wherever you are in your after life, that you landed on the shiniest star and got the best seat in the House.

Much Love to You, B.

But I stayed up with you all night
And I know how to save a life - The Fray

NEXT POST - Letter 2

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