National Organ and Tissue Donor Awareness Week: April 18 to April 25
Story by Devon Jolie
Organ donation saved Kristy Thackeray’s life when she was just 13. Years later, it would save her daughter’s life, too.
Diagnosed with restrictive cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the heart turns fatty and fibrous, making it hard to pump blood, Kristy’s prognosis was fatal unless a new heart could be found and successfully transplanted.
“Your life is in waiting when you’re waiting for an organ,” Kristy says, now 29 and living in Calgary. All too many people understand this—as of 2011, 786 people in Alberta alone were waiting for a life-saving organ.
It was hard to come to terms with the possibility that a match might not be found, but Kristy says she had tremendous support from her family and the Southern Alberta Transplant Program.
When she was diagnosed, she traveled from her then-Medicine Hat home to Edmonton. There, she met with health professionals, counsellors and other patients who needed transplants and had successfully recovered. Five months later, a heart was found for Kristy and she received the transplant through the Pediatric Heart Transplant Program at Stollery Children’s Hospital.
Recalling her surgery, Kristy is thankful to the family who donated their child’s organs.
“There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t think of the child.”
Sherry Buckle, unit manager of the Southern Alberta Transplant Program, says that today they offer patients group education sessions, counsellors, peer support groups, and one-to-one care to help them cope with the transplant process.
“We want to make all information available to patients and help them meet their needs,” she says.
And the Thackerys would need support from the program once again.
When Kristy’s daughter Shaylynn was just two, she was also diagnosed with restrictive cardiomyopathy. Kristy recalls the fear she felt, remembering the difficult waiting process.
“The reality was that she needed a young heart,” she says, “and there are fewer young donors.”
After one month of being on the transplant list, a 3 a.m. call confirmed that Shaylynn had a new heart.
”I think it’s amazing that when you are going through such devastation that you can actually think of someone else,” Kristy says of organ donation.
Because of that selfless kindness, Shaylynn, now 10, and her mother were able to participate in the 6th Canadian Transplant games in Calgary from July 16 to 22.
“The Games really showcase how you can live with a transplant,” Kristy says.
Which, as Buckle says, is one of the goals of the Southern Alberta Transplant Program.
“We strive to improve the quality of life and the long term outcomes of patients post transplant,” she says. “We help them understand how to help themselves.”
There will be a lifetime of medications, appointments and constant vigilance for both mother and daughter. But Kristy says it’s a small price to pay for enjoying life because of organ donation.
“It’s really important to see how you can have an impact on someone’s life when you’re gone,” she says. “Even if you’re able to donate five organs, that’s five different families that are going see their loved one live.
“Organ donation works.”