A Patient That Changed My Life
The patient that changed my life – and the lives of my entire family – is a patient that we never even met. Despite being a complete stranger whose name we never learned, this patient had an impact on us that will last a lifetime. Indeed, a lifetime that wouldn’t have been possible without them.
Approximately 5 years ago, Lena and Cliff were blessed with the birth of a beautiful baby girl. As older, first-time parents -- both over 40 – they knew there was some chance of a complicated/risky pregnancy. As the pregnancy advanced, tests showed that the baby was suffering from congenital heart defects. A strong faith in God and a strong desire to deliver the baby sustained them during the hard, long months of the pregnancy.
Many hours of prayer took place, and many tears were shed, as doctors worked with the mother – counselors worked with the entire family – to prepare them for what they would be facing once the baby arrived. Despite the dire warnings of hardship, they remained strong in their conviction to carry the baby to term.
At 6 months development, Olivia was born. The tests were shown to be accurate, and she was quickly diagnosed with congenital heart defects. The doctors assured the family that their baby would not live longer than 3 or 4 years, without a heart transplant. She was immediately placed on a transplant waiting list. What followed was several difficult years of trach tubes, dozens of medications every day, hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills, and an undying love for the beautiful little girl Olivia.
The years passed, and along with them came 3 calls from the transplant center, reporting the possibility of a compatible heart being available. Unfortunately, none of them were acceptable – much to the dismay of worried parents and family. Surely, time must be running out?
Eventually, on December 23, 2007, a call again came in – a heart was available, and it was the most viable one yet available. Dropping everything, the harried parents rushed, along with their now-four-year-old angel, to St. Louis Children’s Hospital in Missouri. Tests were done, and it was found that the organ was a close enough match to allow transplant. The transplant team began the surgery early on Christmas Eve, and 16 hours later, it was done. Olivia was out of surgery with a new, fully functioning heart!
Many days of worry and many sleepless nights followed. Would her body reject the organ? Would it function adequately? Was this really a new chance at life for this sweet baby? As it turned out, despite several scary signs of rejection, the organ eventually began to work as expected, and Olivia began the long road to recovery.
How was such a thing even possible? That’s where the patient that changed our lives comes into the story.
Despite all I’ve written, Olivia is not actually the real subject of this article – though she has certainly been a blessing to all of us. The real hero in this tale is the nameless angel who lost his or her life on December 23, 2007, and by doing so, made it possible for our family to enjoy many more years with our angel. We don’t know his or her name, or the circumstances of their death, or indeed any other details. What we do know is that we were the beneficiaries of the sacrifice of this family.
It was brought to light, to all of us, as a family member led us in prayer during the surgery. The pastor immediately asked God to bless and comfort the family who had just lost their baby, enabling ours to have a chance at life. It was such a profound thing – we were all so wrapped up in our concern for Olivia that it was too easy to forget about the other party in our story. A family had just lost their child, at Christmas, and yet had the bravery and compassion to allow this organ donation! What an amazing family this must be. What a loss they had suffered! And still, they had the courage to give our baby another chance at life. How humbling it was.
We still don’t know the patient’s name, or history, or really much of anything at all. I got to visit with Olivia and her parents a month or so ago. She was running, playing, and laughing with my grand daughter – just as any 5-year-old baby would do. She no longer has trach tubes, no longer gets too tired to play, no longer lies around listless and exhausted and depressed. All because of a patient we never met. An angel – a family of angels – that changed our lives forever.Last edit by brian on Aug 10, '08
About Bortaz, RN, ADN
Joined: Jun '08; Posts: 2,875; Likes: 5,260
NICU; from US
6 year(s) of experience in NICU; Coordinator of Clin DocumentationAug 10, '08Thank you for the beautiful article. My family was blessed with 13 years with our mother after another family who lost their loved one, gave my mother the gift of life. A heart. I prayed and thanked God for that family each and every day.Aug 10, '08This is a beautiful story about the power and gift of organ donation. The selfless act that grieving families do in order to give life. These stories get me right where it counts everytime. Thank you for this.Aug 10, '08My brother was an organ donor. It was very hard on my mom but just knowing that someone else might live, made a difference.
Thank you for sharing this beautiful story!!!Aug 12, '08hey.. just want to know if your name is "catherine" because you use the codename "cathrn"... just asking..Aug 14, '08Wow! That's a wonderful story! I decided when I was 13 yrs. old that I wanted to be an organ donor. I told my mom and my family, and my mom promised me that if anything ever happened to me, then she would donate my organs. I had an aunt die of cancer at age 12, a grandpa die of lung cancer at 13, and a best friend die of a brain tumor and leukemia at age 14 (he was 14 also). I knew what it was like to watch someone suffer and watch a family lose their loved one. I wanted to know that I could help bring life to someone if there was no hope for me. At the age of 29, I am still an organ donor. I am a registered eye donor and organ donor now. I also am the mother of a beautiful and wonderful 6-1/2 yr. old daughter. I can not imagine losing my daughter, and I hope I don't ever have to go through that, but I have already made the decision that if anything ever happened to her, I will donate her organs also. I became a nurse at age 25, and I have had many patients whose lives were changed by organ donation. It's so wonderful to know that the person you love has a chance at life because one or several people decided to simply mark DONOR on their license! It's free to do! It's not hard to do! What so many people don't realize is that most of the time the organs are removed and disposed of if you aren't a donor, so it's just wasted organs that could have helped save a life. I was once told that ONE person's donated organs can save as many as 15 LIVES! That's the most amazing thing ever! It's no different than giving blood or plasma! You are keeping a life alive with your selfless donation!Aug 14, '08I have also made the decision to be an organ/tissue donor. My entire family knows of my wishes. Organ donation was the topic of my final speech in my speech class. At the end of my speech, I handed out donor cards to the entire class. I received a standing ovation! It was a very moving moment. There were several in the class crying saying that they had no idea that there was such a need for organ donation. I told them that if only one of them made the decision to become an organ/tissue donation that it would help so many people.
I also spoke with them about donating blood and/or plasma. I am O negative, so I donate blood or plasma routinely. I also speak with my co-workers about donating blood.Last edit by CathRN on Aug 14, '08 : Reason: additional informationAug 28, '08Olivia started Kindergarten just a few days ago. She called my wife last night (with mom's help), and extolled the virtues of school and certain classmates.
The food, according to Olivia, does not indeed "rock". And, "OMG, she had to take a nap!"
Sometimes, it's great to be alive.
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