NOTE: The following is an op-ed piece from Ellie O’Brien, a transplant recipient from Halifax. National Organ and Tissue Donation Awareness Week is April 18-25.
Chronic illness changes a person. It alters your view on life and how you live it. It’s the whole reason I became a nurse, but let me tell you how I got here.
I was a normal, teenage girl. I attended high school, spent time with my friends and even danced five times a week. But shortly after I turned 16, I traded in dancing for dialysis.
For unknown reasons, I was diagnosed with end stage renal failure. I needed a kidney transplant.
I remember my mother carrying me through the emergency department doors as I was too weak to walk. I remember the medical tests, answering a thousand questions, and well, more tests. I remember the doctor’s words, “Your kidneys are working at about five per cent, but you’re still alive because you’re young.” And then, I remember my father’s tears.
After that day, I was no longer a normal, teenage girl. I felt alone, I felt exhausted. Three times a week I’d receive dialysis, and day after day, I’d find out nobody in my family was a donor match. I began to feel hopeless.
A year and a half after dialysis treatments, I thought I’d never find a live donor, and waiting for a cadaver kidney was my only option. Until one day, my mother told me that one of her oldest and best friends had been tested, and it looked like she was going to be a match.
I didn’t want to believe it. I didn’t want to get my hopes up.
But it was real, and the day had come. Hooked up to my dialysis machine, I looked up to see my transplant co-ordinator utter the words, “we have a match.” As tears streamed down my face, I looked down at the machine, and all of its tubes, for the last time.
After my transplant, I felt more than just normal, I felt alive – both physically and emotionally. I was able to go to the prom without insecurities and pursue my new found goal of becoming a nurse.
Fast forward to today, my experience has given me a vast amount of empathy for others and an understanding of what my patients need as far as care and education. I understand what kind of information is important to them and how to go about communicating with them.
So yes, chronic illness changes you, but it also takes you on a path to wanting to live your life to the fullest, to live a life where you don’t worry about how much fluid you can drink that day.
To those waiting for your special gift, don’t give up. Even when all hope is lost, look ahead to a life filled with better days – because it does get better.
And to potential donors, you can truly change one’s life – like my donor did for me – you can offer the gift of living happily, and without pain.
Talk to your loved ones, and consider registering as an organ and tissue donor, today.