Photo: Twitter @HeatherBadenoch
Heather Badenoch from Ottawa has always loved giving back: she runs a PR agency for not-for-profits and rescues dogs in her spare time. But recently she went big and decided to give away a third of her liver to a random stranger--a very sick child. After recovering from the surgery, she took to Twitter to document this selfless act. And the whole thread makes for an amazing read.
You read that right, "a stranger"--she didn't even know this kid before signing over 30 percent of a vital organ. So what made her do it?
Here’s my story. ⁰8yo Gianna-Lynn Favilla made a public plea for a liver donor in 2016. I applied. ⁰She got another living donor and had a successful transplant. Woot!https://t.co/INPECULUHe ⁰I asked stay in the screening process to donate to whoever needed a liver most.— Heather Badenoch (@HeatherBadenoch) May 29, 2018
We're thrilled for Gianna-Lynn Favilla, who ended up receiving a transplant from her best friend's dad (another hero in our books), but the sad thing is, a significant number of people on the liver and kidney transplant waiting lists die before receiving an organ. (That was the outcome for 278 Canadians in 2014.) And that's why Heather decided that she'd go ahead and become a living donor anyway. Here's a taste of what was involved in becoming a living donor:
Becoming a living liver donor includes forms, tests (blood, CT, MRI, x-ray), psych evaluation and many conversations with the @UHNTransplant team. 1 in 3 applicants are accepted. Then matching to a recipient gets underway. Living organ donor program: https://t.co/tlAvUq43LMMay 29, 2018
There can be devastating bumps in the road:
My first match to a recipient was in 2016. We had a transplant surgery date. ⁰Then the recipient became too ill, so transplant was postponed for two weeks. ⁰Sadly, the transplant was then cancelled. ⁰The team said that “transplant was no longer foreseeable” for that recipient.— Heather Badenoch (@HeatherBadenoch) May 29, 2018
It was a sad time. ⁰Even though this child and their family were strangers. ⁰Heartbreaking that we'd come close to saving his or her life, but the chance slipped away. ⁰We took a break before trying to match to a new recipient.— Heather Badenoch (@HeatherBadenoch) May 29, 2018
But after taking a moment to steel herself again, Heather kept going.
Many would worry about the physical risks of giving away a big chunk of an organ, but as Heather goes on to explain, the living donor transplants performed to date at Toronto General Hospital (where Heather had her surgery) have had stellar outcomes for the donors:
Does organ donor surgery have risks? Yes. However, since 1999 more than 700 living donor transplants have been performed @UHN with no donor deaths and no long-term ill effects. They became the largest adult transplant centre in North America in 2017.https://t.co/sg2olHyyDBMay 29, 2018
Finally, a new match was found, and Heather's sliver of liver made its way through the Toronto General Hospital hallways in a snazzy red case...
Time went by. We resumed the matching process… Had a new match… and the transplant surgery happened! pic.twitter.com/JGM8jVK7t5— Heather Badenoch (@HeatherBadenoch) May 29, 2018
through a tunnel into Toronto's Sick Kids Hospital...
Living liver donor transplants are done in #Toronto @UHN Toronto General Hospital (adult donor) and @SickKidsNews (child recipient). My surgery was at one hospital and my recipient’s surgery was at the other. They are connected by a tunnel.— Heather Badenoch (@HeatherBadenoch) May 29, 2018
into the body of a child in need, whose identity Heather will never know--but she's OK with that.
Surgeons shared that my liver recipient was doing well. No further recipient info will ever be provided. That’s the deal you make as an anonymous (from the recipient) donor.— Heather Badenoch (@HeatherBadenoch) May 29, 2018
The cool thing is, during her hospital stay she got to hang out with many organ recipients and watch them regain their strength and get ready to take on the world again.
I spent a week recovering in the Multi-organ Transplant Unit. It’s a magical place. ⁰Organ recipients walk laps around the halls—going by a little faster each day, standing more upright. ⁰Visibly filling with life. ⁰We joked about racing each other as we clutched our walkers.— Heather Badenoch (@HeatherBadenoch) May 29, 2018
And before long, thanks to the magic of self-regeneration, she was feeling great too.
The human liver regenerates. We’re starfish. The donated piece of my liver grew into a full liver in the recipient. My liver regenerated to full volume within 2-3 months.— Heather Badenoch (@HeatherBadenoch) May 29, 2018
So great that she was back at work quicker than doctors had expected:
Liver donors are advised to take 6-8 wks off. My recovery was better than expected. Felt 70% back to normal 9 days post-surgery. I’m a consultant with flexible hours and eased back into work from home 11 days post-surgery. Driving after 3 weeks. At meetings in person by week 4.— Heather Badenoch (@HeatherBadenoch) May 29, 2018
Only one thing sucked in any way about the experience...
Admit it. What you’re really wondering is about alcohol. Yes, a liver donor briefly stops consuming alcohol one-month pre-surgery and 2-3 months post-surgery. You can resume drinking alcohol once an MRI shows your liver has fully regenerated. Not going to lie. I missed wine.— Heather Badenoch (@HeatherBadenoch) May 29, 2018
But foregoing wine for a while ultimately seemed trivial to Heather in relation to what she was able to do for the kid who got that piece of her liver. And part of the reward was being able to write a letter to this child and receive one in return. What a privilege!
There are 3-5 anonymous (from the recipient) living liver donors @UHN each year. To stay anonymous from each other, my recipient and I keep our surgery date secret. We can send each other one anonymous letter. What do you write in a letter of this magnitude? pic.twitter.com/sPJ3yJc8kk— Heather Badenoch (@HeatherBadenoch) May 29, 2018
I mean, just imagine being penpals with a child whose life you got to save!
Why save the life of a stranger? This was just another person on the waiting list. ⁰But for a family out there, this is their child. This child needed this piece of liver more than I did.— Heather Badenoch (@HeatherBadenoch) May 29, 2018
While fewer than 60 selfless people have done what Heather did at Toronto General Hospital since 2005, anybody can apply to be an anonymous living organ donor.
There have been less than 60 anonymous living liver donors @UHN since 2005. I'm #55. Canadian research shows that anonymous donors are people from all walks of life who feel a high level of social responsibility. https://t.co/zETjYK1KbMMay 29, 2018
And as well as saving a life, you get to hang with the dream team of doctors and nurses who make this whole miracle of modern science happen.
Hats off to the Living Liver Donor Transplant Team. You are incredible Dr. Grant, Dr. Cattral, Judy Jung, Zubaida Mohamed and Barbara Henrich-Sala. Nurse Chantelle N. took care of me for the first few days of recovery. My husband wrote a letter. @ontarionurses @canadanurses @RNAO pic.twitter.com/Q9T5ls6p7y— Heather Badenoch (@HeatherBadenoch) May 29, 2018
Think you wouldn't have what it takes to go through something like this? Well, Heather says she's squeamish, but she powered through (OK, with the help of another awesome human, her husband).
My wonderful husband @OttawaReno spent the week in Toronto. His willingness to inject me with blood thinners at home for four weeks (surprise: I’m squeamish) and pick up my share of the cooking, dog walks, etc. was everything. His support made this possible.— Heather Badenoch (@HeatherBadenoch) May 29, 2018
And now she and her surgeon have formed a mutual fan club.
At the one-month post-surgery appointment, I said “thank you” to Dr. Grant, Surgical Director of Transplantation, who replied “thank you” to me. ⁰It truly felt like I should be thanking him. ⁰It was an honour to be part of saving a life. The joy I feel has been a gift to me.— Heather Badenoch (@HeatherBadenoch) May 29, 2018
And she has the best scar story.
I wind up seeing that small 4” scar a couple of times each day. ⁰It provides perspective. ⁰It doesn’t matter how a meeting went, or if laundry is piling up, or if the dog puked on the carpet. ⁰That scar is a reminder of what matters.— Heather Badenoch (@HeatherBadenoch) May 29, 2018
It felt so worthwhile, that she's gearing up to do it again, this time for a loved one in want of a kidney.
I plan to do it again. A family member has Lupus and could need a kidney. It’s here whenever she needs it. It is possible to be both a living liver donor and kidney donor. This has been done before.https://t.co/iS4B5Tx66TMay 29, 2018
And she hopes other people will read her story and become living donors too.
The purpose of these tweets is not to “raise awareness”. ⁰People on the transplant list need your action. ⁰Check your health card to make sure you’re a registered organ donor. Register at https://t.co/U5NC51DN0j Become a living liver or kidney donor: https://t.co/erxd08p4q7 pic.twitter.com/OQ39aFJdeg— Heather Badenoch (@HeatherBadenoch) May 29, 2018
So many kids (and grown-ups) are in desperate need of organ donations.
Every three days a person in Ontario dies because the life-saving organ they need is not available. Hopefully my recipient and their family are doing well and moving forward. I think of my little recipient every day and send them love. Thanks for reading! Ask me anything. -30-— Heather Badenoch (@HeatherBadenoch) May 29, 2018
After receiving an overwhelming response to her tweets, Heather told Today's Parent in an email that donors and recipients have also been inspired to share their stories, since seeing her thread.
"People who were close to death are now living their life, heading to university, meeting grandchildren—it's good for the soul to hear about people doing so well," she says.
So what are you waiting for?!