Tuesday, April 03, 2012

St. Catharines, Ontario woman waiting for liver donation

By Melinda Cheevers, NiagaraThisWeek.com

Jessica Penman’s life is on hold.

A chance for change. Jessica Penman is on the wait list for a new liver. The 30-year-old St. Catharines resident is sharing her story in the hopes it will inspire people to register as organ donors. For more information visit www.beadonor.ca

The 30-year-old St. Catharines resident can’t work, goes out of her way to avoid getting sick and must have her pager on her at all times. Jessica’s liver is failing and she is on the wait list for a liver transplant. When the pager does goes off, it could change her life.

While finding a matching donor is an onerous task on its own, Jessica’s O blood type makes finding a match even more of a challenge.

“Only a person with an O blood type can donate.* On average, people with an O blood type can wait up to seven times longer on transplant lists,” she said.

Jessica’s life was “turned upside down” in August 2010. She had been working at her family’s restaurant in Niagara-on-the-Lake and going about her life, like most people in their late 20s. Then she began losing weight and her skin took on a yellow colour. When she began to lose feelings in her hands and feet, she went to the hospital.

“That’s pretty much the last thing I remember, going to the hospital,” she said, adding she woke up 10 days later in the intensive care unit with a diagnosis of end-stage liver failure. “They gave me two weeks to live.”

The next few weeks, she said, took an emotional toll on not just her but her family as well.

“My mom and family were basically there with me, waiting for me to die,” she said.

It’s a road they had been down before. Her father had died of the same diagnosis.

“Many people find it hard to believe, because I wasn’t even 30 yet but things affect my liver differently than other people,” she said. “I lived my life like a regular teenager, regular person in their 20s but my body couldn’t handle things the same way.”

Despite that initial two-week prognosis, she ended up being released from the hospital three months later. When she left the hospital, Jessica weighed 113 pounds and didn’t have the strength to walk or do many of the day-to-day tasks she had become accustomed to doing herself. Instead, she said, her mom and family members became her support system.

“I used to take a lot of things for granted,” she said. “Having to ask for help to do everything is not something I’d wish on anybody. I appreciate everything I have now. I really value the small things... things I never cared about before.”

While Jessica said her liver is holding for now, she has to be very cautious to ensure that does not change. She had to stop working because of her condition.

Her blood is very thin and simple cuts can make her bleed profusely. Getting sick is not an option, so she said she has to be very careful about avoiding contagious germs. She can’t take Advil or Tylenol, must avoid alcohol, and has to be careful with what she eats.

“Different foods affect me in different ways,” she said.

Having her life on hold, she said, can be very frustrating. To help pass the time, Jessica has joined the Life Donation Awareness Association of Niagara, a group working to build awareness and support for organ and tissue donations.

“One person dies every three days waiting for an organ transplant,” Jessica said. “If my story helps to inspire even one person to sign up as a donor, I’m happy.”

Through the group, Jessica said she’s been able to meet other people who are waiting for a transplant, those who have gone through the operation and even family members of those who donated organs after they’ve died.

“It’s nice to be able to see it from all perspectives,” she said.

The group, which also has a midwest Ontario chapter, encourages people to register their consent to become an organ and tissue donor. There are currently about 1,500 people waiting on a transplant list in Ontario.

“Many people think they’re registered because they signed the paper donor card that came with the drivers licence. That’s not necessarily true,” said Jessica, who encourages people to check their donor status at www.beadonor.ca.

April 22 to 29 is National Tissue and Organ Donation Week and Jessica, along with other members of the Life Donation Awareness Association, will be at the Pen Centre in St. Catharines on April 27, 28, and 29 in an effort to encourage people to sign up to become a donor.

“It doesn’t even take two minutes. All you need is your health card,” she said. “It’s important for people to take the time to do it.”

The group is also planning more events in the coming months, including a possible skydiving event in June.

* There are 8 types of human blood: O positive, O negitive, A positive, A negitive, B positive, B negitive, AB positive, and AB negitive. A person with 0 positive blood can receive blood from either 0 positive or 0 negative donors. Type 0 negative persons can only receive from a type 0 negative donor. The most common blood type is O positive. The most uncommon blood type is AB negative. Merv.

“You Have the Power to Donate Life – to become an organ and tissue donor Sign-up today!
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.

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