the Waterloo Region Record; written by Johanna Weidner
Pam Ditner is thankful for the mechanical heart keeping her alive while she waits for a new one.
Before the device was implanted to take over for her failing heart, the Cambridge woman was too ill to even be considered for a transplant. “I actually passed the point where a transplant would help me,” said Ditner, 46.
She’s feeling much better since getting the device two years ago – at the same time she was put on the transplant wait list.
“It’s pretty hard to complain about anything when you know what the alternative is,” she said. “Now it’s just wait, wait, wait.”
She’s eager to share her story next week, which is National Organ and Tissue Donation Awareness Week (April 22 to 28).
Ditner and other volunteers with the Life Donation Awareness Association of Waterloo-Wellington will be in local malls and other public places around the region to talk about the importance of organ donation and increase the number of registered donors.
In Ontario, about 1,500 people are waiting for an organ. Every three days one of them dies because there is no organ available, reports the Trillium Gift of Life Network, which oversees organ and tissue donation in the province.
“I think it’s important to put a face on the people who are waiting and the people who’ve had a transplant,” Ditner said. “It makes it more real.”
Every donor has the potential to save up to eight lives and enhance the lives of as many as 75 through tissue donation. Only one out of five eligible people in Ontario are registered organ and tissue donors. People must register as donors as a signed donor card is not enough.
“I encourage people to register, but more importantly I encourage people to talk to their family,” Ditner said.
Taking a few minutes to discuss wishes for organ donation will make it easier for loved ones when faced with the question at a difficult time, she said.
Ditner is acutely aware of the great gift of a donated organ. Her son got a new heart several years ago when he too suffered heart failure and his health quickly deteriorated.
For a decade after she was diagnosed, Ditner was doing well.
“I didn’t have a bad life,” she said.
Although she couldn’t return to work and had little stamina, she was able to manage and care for her two young children.
But then her ailing heart began to worsen, slowly but steadily limiting her abilities until it became difficult simply to climb more than a few stairs.
“I didn’t really pick up how much I was deteriorating because I just stopped doing things,” Ditner said.
When she went to hospital for routine testing in early 2010, she wasn’t allowed to leave because the pressure in her heart was unexpectedly high. Just over a week later she suddenly felt worse, barely able to stand or eat because it was too much effort.
Her heart was enlarged and beating very fast, making the device essential for her to even have a shot at a transplant. Now she’s feeling better than she has for many years.
She’s able to again do many of the things she enjoys, like long walks with her two dogs. The only catch is that she needs to constantly tote around a backpack carrying the device’s battery pack and computer.
Ditner is now in great shape to receive a new organ, when the right one finally appears.
“I have the luxury of waiting for the perfect heart.”
To see the online story, click here.