As part of our new Survivor column and in honour of National Organ and Tissue Donor Awareness Week (April 22nd to 28th) we are pleased to publish an inspiring story written by Jessica Penman 30, of Niagara on the Lake, Ontario. Jessica is currently waiting for a life saving organ transplant.
When I was sixteen, I like everyone else my age, was excited to get my driver’s license. When it finally arrived in the mail I remember feeling like an “adult”. I opened the envelope and there it was, my new license and an organ donation consent card. I signed the organ donation consent card immediately knowing it was the right thing to do, and the first real important decision I would make as a young adult. I had no idea that fifteen years later I would be put on an organ transplant waiting list, waiting for a transplant to save my life.
My story is not meant to entertain and certainly not for the sake of anyone’s pity. It about a journey that I have begun, without asking to participate in, one that I hope to finish. This journey is also about helping to inform and educate as many people along the way as I can about the importance of registering to be an organ donor.
17 months ago I was working for my family in Niagara on the Lake, Ontario. I was a typical 29 year old, or so I thought. I worked, I went out, and I spent time with friends. I started to notice that I wasn’t like everyone else. I liked to work as little as possible, go out as much as possible and consequently I began burning the candle at both ends of the stick.
Now, this part of my journey is truly tragic: a smart, charming, talented young women hits rock bottom! Why? Because I never thought that I was any of those things. All I saw was ugliness, failure and disappointment. I thought that was all that I was destined to be. People labeled me as a party girl, so that’s what I became. But like I said, I’m not looking for sympathy or pity. My past is what brought me to where I am now.
On Aug. 17, 2010 I was admitted to the St. Catharine’s Intensive Care Unit with End Stage Liver Failure. I was immediately given three blood transfusions as my body had ceased making its own. I was jaundiced and could no longer walk from muscle mass deterioration. I lost so much weight, 60 pounds. My body could no longer support itself. I had nerve damage in my feet, legs, hands and my arms up to my elbows – I had no feeling in the limbs of my body. My family was told I had less than two weeks to live. They started to put my final affairs in order and they waited – waited for me to die.
Miraculously ten days later I started to improve. Just a little, but enough. I spent the next 3 months in the hospital. I couldn’t walk, feed myself, go to the washroom, write or even dial the phone. When I was finally released I was told I needed a liver transplant and would be put on a waiting list. I was also informed that every three days someone dies waiting for the organs they so desperately need to survive simply because they just aren’t available. I was devastated and I was terrified. That’s when I made my decision. I would not give up without a fight!
When I got home I was determined to turn my life around, make the most of it. I forced myself daily to learn how to walk again. I practiced writing the alphabet over and over again until I could hold a pen and finally sign my own name. It was a daily battle to become independent again, but I refused to give up.
Today, I am happy and grateful to be alive. I am still waiting for a life saving transplant. I carry a pager with me everywhere I go in case a liver becomes available. This journey has taught me so much but most of all this journey has let me become the woman I never thought I could be.
I am so blessed to have been given a second chance whether I get my transplant or not. I have learned how wonderful life can be. I see the good in people, I witness the love and compassion this world has to offer. I live life to the fullest; as much as my doctors will allow. I also count my blessings everyday that I am well enough to speak on behalf of the many people waiting for transplants that are unable to speak. I use my voice to help raise awareness on the importance of registering online to be an organ donor. I help put a face to the numbers we all “hear” about.
One organ donor can save up to eight lives and enhance the lives of 75 others through organ and tissue donation. I wouldn’t be alive today if someone in Ontario hadn’t taken the time to donate blood for my transfusions. Through educating, I inform Canadians that people like myself don’t need to wait for someone to pass away to receive a liver transplant. Only a portion of a matching living donor’s liver is needed for a successful transplant. (My dad was the match in my family, he died of liver failure). People with an “O” blood type, like myself can wait up to seven times longer than people with other blood types needing a transplant. My hope is to raise awareness so that no one dies waiting for a transplant.
I never in a million years thought I would be thirty and waiting for a life saving transplant. This journey has shown me what a blessing it is to be alive. I am a sister, a daughter and a friend. Today I know that I am a smart, charming, beautiful talented woman who is happy to be who I am. I am happy even with all the scars of my past, and hopefully a “new” scar in the near future.
This story isn’t for me; it’s for all of us waiting for transplants. The young, the old, the mothers, the fathers, the daughters, the sons, the sisters and the brothers. For all the friends I’ve met along the way who, just as I much as I do, want a chance to live.
Written by Jessica Penman
Please help Jessica reach her goal of receiving 1000 registered consent forms, as part of the Gift of 8 Movement, by registering your own organ donation consent at:
Posted by Our Pink Thoughts at Monday, April 23, 2012