When an organ is donated, lives are saved. These are just some of the touching success stories that result when people make the decision to sign their donor card. Take a moment to read these stories and see how lives have been saved by organ donation and families have been helped by the David Foster Foundation.
"It's all about sharing the gift of life..."
In her position with Transplant Services at the Regional Tissue Bank in Halifax, Denice Klavano has seen many donor families going through very difficult situations. She brings to her job energy, enthusiasm, grace and tact, and also something else - the experience of having been in the same situation. The experience of being a donor family.
In addition to her work, Denice is a mom, with four sons. In 2006 she went through every parent's worst nightmare - her second oldest son Brad was killed in an accident at the Halifax Armouries, where he was a reservist with the Princess Louse Fusiliers.
"It's funny - Brad and I had discussed organ and tissue donation shortly before his death," Denice says. "His new health card had come in the mail, and we talked about donation. I told him to do as he wished, that just because I worked in the field of donation, that shouldn't influence him. He shrugged and gave me that easy smile of his. "Mom", he said, gesturing to his body, "this is only a rental."
For Denice, as for many parents and families of donors, knowing that her son gave the gift of donation has given another dimension of meaning to her son's all too brief life.
"The act of donation is truly a gift of comfort to grieving parents and devastated families," Denice says. "To know that our precious child lives on through the gift of life or mobility to others. It is truly a living legacy."
Today, Denice spends much of her time educating the public and medical professionals about the need to talk to families about organ donation, especially if their child or loved one has died without becoming a registered organ donor.
"Too often, medical professionals in this situation feel that to ask the family at this devastating time would cause them more grief or be inappropriate or inconsiderate," Denice explains. "What I try to get across in my presentations is that the family has just heard the worst news possible, and asking about organ or tissue donation is actually a way of offering meaningful comfort. A gentle ask about organ or tissue donation gives that family an opportunity to make a meaningful decision that can help so many and give them a legacy for their loved one."
Denice and her family are comforted by the knowledge that Brad's eyes continue to see the world, although through a different lens. Tendons have helped an athlete regain mobility, and heart valves have saved the life of a child with a heart defect. And in giving a gift to those in need, they found it was also a gift to themselves. A gift of comfort, a gift of meaning and truly, a living legacy.
"It's so important to talk to your friends and family about the importance of becoming a registered organ donor," Denice says. "It's all about sharing the gift of life - Brad enriched our lives with his love, humour and belly laughs. I believe that in the lives of his recipients, as they live and love, there is a legacy. And when they laugh, I'm sure there is an echo to Brad's spirit - and he is smiling."
"I was off work all that time and without the Foundation's help I couldn't have made it."
Mason came into the world in September 2003. For first-time parent Bob, it was the highlight of his life. Bob knew very little about babies, but from the first week of Mason's life, he knew something wasn't quite right. Mason wasn't gaining weight, didn't want to eat, and would only sleep for an hour at a time.
After five weeks of this, Mason was taken to emergency. After a long day of tests, the doctor reported that the ultrasound couldn't find Mason's kidneys. Mason had only one underdeveloped kidney functioning, and the doctors were determined to make it last as long as possible.
Thus began the first of dozens of visits to Toronto. Far from their home in northern Ontario, the expenses for this family started to build. Lengthy stays in Toronto with food and hotel bills, combined with taking a leave from work, made a difficult situation worse for Bob who was a single dad.
That's when Bob was referred to the David Foster Foundation for help. He was overwhelmed with the amount of support and concern. The David Foster Foundation helped with food, travel, and living expenses so that he could live in downtown Toronto to be close to the hospital.
"I was off work all that time and without the Foundation's help I couldn't have made it," says Bob.
Mason's transplant finally happened six months later. It's been over three years now, and Mason is a happy, healthy seven-year-old. His school marks are excellent, he plays basketball and soccer, and he's even working on his orange belt in Hapkido. Mason still visits the hospital every three months for a checkup. And, with the Foundation's continued support, Mason has access to the best possible care in the world.
"It wasn't a hard decision. It meant helping my child live longer."
Victor was born with a genetic metabolic disorder called Cystinosis, a condition where cystine crystals cannot flush out of his body and accumulate in his muscles and organs. This meant that one day, he would need a kidney transplant. Thankfully, just before his 18th birthday, he got that transplant from his mom Liz.
"It wasn't a hard decision. It meant helping my child live longer," says Liz. "Once I knew my son would need a transplant, I changed my lifestyle dramatically. I began eating healthier so I could be ready if ever the time came."
Right before his surgery, Victor shared his gratitude with his mom. "He hugged me and kissed me and said, 'Thank you, mom. I love you for everything you do for me. I'm ready.'" Victor had both of his kidneys replaced. Liz was discharged a few days after the transplant, but Victor stayed in hospital for nearly three weeks afterwards.
"To know I was able to help someone in their time of need and that their life depended on me - that was so special," Liz says. "Being a donor for my son made it all the more meaningful. It was like seeing my baby take his first breath again." And, when asked if she would consider donation again, Liz says, "I personally would do it again if I could, now and after I pass away. Being a donor has allowed me to celebrate the gift of life with my son."
At five months old, Chace was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy. In layman's terms, it meant that his heart was twice the size it should have been. In fact, it took up so much room in his chest that his left lung collapsed.
Chace and his family spent a month at BC Children's Hospital PICU while trying to medically manage his heart failure. But every time they backed off the meds his heart would start to fail. It was confirmed that a transplant was the only option for him. That's when the decision was made to move Chace from his home in Vancouver to the Stollery Children's Hospital in Edmonton for a heart transplant.
Then the waiting game started. Chace's parents practically lived in hospital with him and rented a small apartment not far away where they stayed. At first, Chace's dad flew back to Vancouver for his work shifts. But then he too got sick, making fewer work shifts and making their financial situation very tight. During Chace's stay, they tried to make a "normal" life out of a lousy situation. And, thanks to the David Foster Foundation, some of their living expenses were taken care of while in Edmonton.
The family continued to live in Edmonton for about six months until they got the call. A donor was found and a transplant was scheduled. Emotions were running high. But Chace came through his surgery with flying colours. He was sitting up after only 36 hours and discharged within 10 days of transplant.
In the year following Chace's transplant, he has shown no rejections on his biopsies. He is a happy two-year-old, and his family is thankful every day that he is there to run them ragged.
"We are so grateful to the donors who made the decision to save our little girl's life."
On a bright day in June 2009, a little girl's heart stopped. Her name was Phoenix and she was only eight weeks old. After being revived with epinephrine, Phoenix was airlifted to the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario. There, an X-ray determined that she had dilated cardiomyopathy, a condition that is untreatable by surgery.
Phoenix spent the next two weeks in the intensive care unit, on and off of breathing tubes and various medications. It was determined that she needed to be placed on the list for a transplant. But to get the treatment she dearly needed, the family had to relocate to Toronto. Her brother Isaiah was so distraught that he was plagued with nightmares. Her sister Alliyah was left back home and missed her siblings and mom so much that she became quiet and withdrawn.
On Aug 14, the family finally received the call they were waiting for and Phoenix was taken to the operating room for a new heart.
"We are so grateful to the donors who made the decision to save our little girl's life. We are also immensely grateful that the David Foster Foundation was there to help us stay together as a family during the most terrifying time of our lives," said Phoenix's mother.
After a successful transplant, Phoenix quickly caught up with life's milestones. There has been no rejection of her new heart, she is on minimal medication, and there have been very few complications. Today she is a big, healthy toddler who loves to talk, run, climb, and explore.