Monday, April 18, 2005


50 ways to love your liver

Did you know April 18 to 22 is National Organ Donor week in Canada?

In late October of 2001, I was just about five months pregnant with my first son. I had been over at the grocery store buying Halloween candy for us -- er, I mean, the neighbourhood kids. When I came in the door, before I could even get my coat off, Beloved approached me with tears in his eyes. “Your mom called,” he said, and the world stopped turning for the briefest instant. Thankfully, it was not what I was expecting. “They got the call. Your dad is getting his liver transplant.”

In 2003, 124 of every million Canadians -- or almost 4,000 people -- were waiting for new organs. But the rate of donations was a fraction of that, at just 13.5 organs per million in population.

My dad got Hepatitis C from a blood transfusion in the early 1980s. We didn’t find out he was sick until much later. Aside from becoming increasingly weak and frail, one of the most disturbing results of my dad’s cirrhosis was how it affected his cognitive processes. The gist of it is that the liver filters toxins like ammonia out of your blood, and when it isn’t working properly, the toxins can build up, leading to serious cognitive impairment. It really messes with your memory, your moods, and your mental stamina, among other things. In a lot of ways, it is similar to Alzheimer’s disease. It made me so very sad to see him struggling, because my father is one of the smartest people I know, and I aspired as a child to be as funny, as charming and as quick of wit as him.

We have been blessed. After the transplant, it wasn’t long before I had my ‘old’ dad back. There have been some setbacks, and there are ongoing troubles. But every time I see him interact with Tristan and Simon, my heart soars. Simon especially has a thing for his “Papa Lou” and even as I type this, I am grinning as I imagine how his face lights up when my dad catches his eye.

Overall, 250 Canadians -- about five each week -- died in 2003 while waiting for new organs. Among them were 82 waiting for a kidney, 100 for a liver, 30 needing a heart, 26 a lung and 12 needing other organs or a combination transplant.

I don’t have the words to express how the pain of some family’s loss can be so intimately bound to our family’s joy. I wish I could let them know what a difference their donation has made in our lives.

Within about 18 months of receiving his transplant, my folks moved across the province to live in the same city as us. Some days, when my dad is out and about, he calls me and offers me a ride home from work. They live just a few blocks from us, and when I was home on maternity leave, he would sometimes wander over in midafternoon while taking the dog for an extended walk.

It’s these tiny moments that are the gift we’ve received from an organ donation. How do you say thank you for the joy of a happy life with someone you love? How do you thank someone for the look in a baby’s eyes as his face lights up with excited recognition?
In the US, more than 87,000 people are waiting for the gift of life. Each day, about 74 people receive an organ transplant. However, 17 people die each day waiting for transplants that can’t take place because of the shortage of donated organs.

Discuss organ donation with your loved ones. Complete an organ donor card (American version). If you can’t take it with you, why not make sure it lives on as the best of you?

(statistics are from the Canadian Institute for Health Information and organdonor.gov)