Photo:David Bebee Record Staff
By Johanna Weidner, therecord.com
CAMBRIDGE, Ontario — Looking forward to a future is now possible for Andrea Clegg.
The Cambridge woman can finally make plans for her life after getting a life-saving heart transplant about a year ago. No longer does she worry every day about what tomorrow will bring.
“I was literally living in survival mode for so long,” said Clegg, 28.
“This is the beginning of a new journey.”
A battery powered device was implanted a year earlier to keep Clegg alive while she waited for a new heart. Hers was rapidly failing and too weak to pump blood around her body, making Clegg gravely ill.
“That was my life-and-death time,” Clegg said.
While the implanted device helped her feel well again while it took over for her heart, it was only a temporary solution.
Clegg kept herself busy during the wait for a transplant. She launched group called Life Donation Awareness Association with family, friends, other transplant patients and donor families to educate people about organ donation.
She’s also promoting beadonor.ca — a new website hosted by the Trillium Gift of Life Network that allows people to register as a donor online.
A cardiac rehabilitation program run by St. Mary’s General Hospital boosted her strength in preparation for the transplant.
Her general good health helped with a quick rebound once she finally got her new heart, getting her back home less than two weeks after surgery. A few expected setbacks slowed her down a bit in the following months, including slight rejection.
“There’s these little ups and downs. That happens,” Clegg said.
Six months after surgery she returned part-time to her job as a civil engineer. She jumped at every opportunity this summer after enduring one summer too sick to do anything followed by another where she had to stay close to home in case she got the call about a good organ match.
Clegg is still adjusting to being healthy and no longer waiting for the essential transplant. Often she still looks for the backpack that was her constant companion because it contained the battery powering her implanted heart device.
“It’s a really gradual process,” Clegg said.
Plans for her one-year anniversary celebration in mid-December were wide open — anything she couldn’t do before with her diseased heart. Something outdoorsy, like hiking or skating, and then eating something bad for her with a hefty sprinkling of salt.
She’ll also write again to the organ donor’s family, hoping to bring them some comfort during their sad remembrance.
“They really did save my life. I would have died otherwise,” Clegg said.
“I tell them I have a chance to look forward to a future, which I never had before.”
Those plans include a long awaited honeymoon with husband Shaun Clegg. The couple’s spring 2009 wedding was cut short when Clegg’s defibrillator shocked her heart a few times during the reception and she was rushed to hospital.
Clegg focuses not on the heart problems that threatened her life, but all the opportunities emerging from her illness. She meets so many people through her efforts to promote organ donation, which also brings hope to others waiting for a transplant and their families.
“My illness is not what defines me,” she said. “It’s how you respond.”
“You Have the Power to Donate Life – to become an organ and tissue donor Sign-up today!
Tell Your Loved Ones of Your Decision”
Tell Your Loved Ones of Your Decision”
Australia, register at Australian Organ Donor Register
New Zealand, register at Organ Donation New Zealand
South Africa, http://www.odf.org.za/
United States, donatelife.net
United Kingdom, register at NHS Organ Donor Register
Your generosity can save or enhance the lives of up to fifty people with heart, kidneys, liver, lungs, pancreas and small intestine transplants (see allotransplantation). One tissue donor can help by donating skin, corneas, bone, tendon, ligaments and heart valves
Has your life been saved by an organ transplant? "Pay it forward" and help spread the word about the need for organ donation - In the U.S. another person is added to the national transplant waiting list every 11 minutes and 18 people die each day waiting for an organ or tissue transplant. Organs can save lives, corneas renew vision, and tissue may help to restore someone's ability to walk, run or move freely without pain. Life Begins with You.