This past Thursday, I came likely as close as I ever will to meeting my donor family.
I was speaking at BC Transplant about my journey through a decade of heart failure, stroke, ICD, LVAD, and waiting for my transplant. Where I had the amazing fortune of meeting a donor family member – not mine – but I tried to speak to her in a way as though she were. I have no idea if I made any sense because I was shaking from nerves, but I spoke from the heart.
I looked at the back of the room and there was a face. A familiar face of a woman who was introduced as working for BC Transplant. She had big hazel eyes and a kind smile.
I asked her if I knew her and she shook her head. Hm. I thought. I feel like I do. I said.
I continued with my story. Through tears and maybe a little laughter.
I finished speaking and sat down. In this intimate setting it was easy to share even though what we we talking about was so intimate, so painful, and so hopeful.
There was a man there – a tall man, with glasses and big brown eyes, dark curly hair and a big smile. He reminded me of one of my doctors. He asked if I had written to my donor family.
I told him I had not. Not yet, anyway. I wanted to wait a year for two reasons. One, out of respect for my donor family I thought that a year would give them enough space to grieve. I hoped so, anyway. And the second reason is because the first year post transplant is usually, as I have been informed, the most critical time for the recipient, me, physically. I also wanted to make sure I was ready.
After the other recipient speakers were finished the woman with the hazel eyes came up to me and said “I was the case worker with your donor family … Her eyes began to swell. I began to cry. We embraced and cried. I knew this was a moment that would be etched on my soul for a lifetime.
We hugged for a long time.
I thought I knew you! I said.
A powerful moment of knowing, of understanding, of recognition.
She said to me that she was glad, that after hearing my story, the heart went to me.
I am without adequate words. I am filled with gratitude, with purpose.
The tall, kind man with the big brown eyes, and glasses? I was informed he was the surgical coordinator which, effectively means, he brought my heart from my donor to me and my surgical team at St. Paul’s hospital.
He came up to me and grinned from ear to ear and hugged me.
As I think often about the people who had a role to play in my care – I am humbled – Grateful for the team of people it has taken to keep me alive. My brilliant team of doctors, my incredible team of nurses, all of the medical professionals who helped along the way. I am strengthened by the presence of so many that my life, the experience of my transplant and the events leading up to it, is a shared experience beyond my own, my husbands, my friends, and my family.
This shared experience – a shared story – our shared story – I feel compelled to tell. Wherever, whenever, to whomever will listen. I have spoken at several events already, but I continue to look for opportunities to tell it.
In meeting the woman with the hazel eyes, the man with the electric smile, I am moved beyond measure by the immense nurturing, attention, and caring that I know for certain was shown to my donor and their family. I cannot even begin to describe the power of that act of kindness, of selflessness that, as I close in on my first year heartiversary, was made during a tragedy that has forever changed, and shaped the future of two families.
I am grateful.
Yet – grateful seems like such a small word. There is no word I can tell you, that I can utter, that captures what the collective acts by so many have meant.
But I can tell you this.
I can see clearly now. I have a powerful knowing.
I am more ME now, with someone else’s heart, than I have ever been.
Like it was meant to be that it would take two people to fulfil a purpose neither one of us was aware of.