Recovery

To My Donor

I took your heart and lungs to Half Moon Bay and I walked through the sand like there was nothing to it. My body remained unfazed as I sunk my feet into uneven mounds of heavy sediment. Lacy white layers of foam flowed across my path and eventually flooded my sneakers when I was caught trying to photograph the hundreds of pelicans that were attacking the surface of the water. The sky was that deep blue color you only get on perfectly clear days and the breeze was strong enough that I didn’t mind the warm weather that greeted my fog-hunting hiking companions and me. I took deep breaths, letting the fresh air fill your lungs and then I began to cry. This will sound platitudinous, but in that moment I realized I would not be standing there without your gift. The realization of how close I came to death hit me again with new power. Because of your generosity, I stood in my soggy running shoes, the sun warming my tear-stained face as I stroked one of several vaguely heart-shaped rocks I hoarded in what became a very heavy purse in the short time it took to walk along the tide pools.

Your heart and lungs and I have spent a lot of time irritable and in pain. I have felt ungrateful and unworthy. Transplant inherently comes with tremendous loss, but it seems that every day now I discover something beautiful made possible only by our surgical merge.

I realized childhood dreams one afternoon when I took your heart and lungs running across several stretches of perfectly groomed lawns on Welch Road. My sister and I kept pace with Basil, my crazy short-legged dog who gets bursts of frantic energy after urinating on patches of grass. I kept going and going, busting through my own outdated expectations of my body’s limits.

I’m convinced Chris Martin sang Adventure Of A Lifetime directly to me on the night I took your heart and lungs to watch Coldplay perform in a stadium of 70,000:

Now I feel my heart beating
I feel my heart underneath my skin
And I feel my heart beating
Oh, you make me feel alive again
Alive again
Oh, you make me feel
Like I’m alive again

It’s hard to top watching a band I’ve loved for fourteen years put on an outstanding show, but I was pretty stoked to realize your heart doesn’t pound painfully against my chest in the presence of loud music like mine used to. It felt incredible to be able to sing and dance without exhausting your heart and lungs; to stand without immediately getting pain in my feet; just to be alive to accept my uncle’s invitation and add the show to the bucket list I’ve formed entirely of already completed items because I was supposed to die when I was 9 and have lived on borrowed time ever since.

I took your heart and lungs to the Strawberry Canyon Fire Trail and I made a joke at my beloved sister’s expense, thankfully catching her in a moment of tolerance for my abrupt humor. I doubled over, shrieking with laughter at my own hilarity. This behavior is more common than I’d like to admit, but the ability to speak while climbing a hill and continue climbing at the same pace, even as I cackled for far too many lonely seconds, was all new.

My mom and dad took turns calling out the number on each elevation marker we passed along the winding stretch of CA-41. I sat in the back seat, nervously filing down my nails as I waited to feel a change in my breathing. But all that changed as we passed the 5,000-foot marker was the width of my grin. After a morning climb to 5,390 feet I danced with your heart and lungs at a wedding no one expected me to be able to attend. I was embraced by a stream of people with intimate knowledge of what I’m going through. Ten years ago the bride’s youngest sister, Rachael, and I sat on a sandy wall preoccupied with illness and our own mortality. At age thirteen, her greatest wish was to live to see both her sisters get married. On September 17th Rachael and I sat on dainty upholstered chairs at a true fairytale wedding. She hooked up an infusion over her salad plate and I periodically returned to my table to swallow handfuls of pills throughout the evening. We teased each other: me telling her how proud I had been when I learned she wasn’t the source of the mid-ceremony medical scare and her demanding to see my puffy cheeks and wherever else I could be hiding Prednisone fat. A mutual recognition of the magnitude of this moment went unspoken. By living to celebrate the marriage of her eldest sister, a woman who kept me laughing and dancing through every summer camp heartbreak, we confounded doctors’ predictions and checked off a bucket list item.

You gave me your heart and lungs when you could take them no further. To honor your gift, I take your heart and lungs where mine could not go. Thank you for making me feel alive again.


www.donatelife.net

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26 thoughts on “To My Donor

  1. Jullie Passos says:

    You are absolutely amazing and inspiring Kathleen! Your acquired heart and lungs have found a new home and have found a new life. The souls of your body as well as the donors definitely had a purpose in life to fulfill that have not yet been completed. God Bless you both. I hope one day you get to meet your donors family so that they can see how wonderful a life their loved ones heart, lungs, and soul are living.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Phil and Mary Jane Tukua says:

    Phil and I just read your blog thanking your donor , and we both admire your gift of expressive writing. We have been praying for you often, Kathleen, and it is so wonderful to see how you are getting stronger and stronger after your heart/lung transplant. Your journey has been such an inspiration to us and we will continue to keep you in our prayers.

    Like

  3. Estella says:

    That was beautiful. I’m so happy for you and also great full for people and families like your donor’s. My only wish is more people could have this opportunity. It is awesome you are taking advantage of it and taking your donors gift and making it meaningful. Lots of hugs and prayers you get to do all your heart desires.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Amanda Ficher says:

    What an inspiration you should be writing a book. I’m so proud of the young lady you’ve become and glad we’ve met. Now that we share transplant stories much different since Annalyce is so much younger. You are absolutely an amazing writer my love and should look farther into that you have such beautiful story to tell. It was truly amazing to see you dancing and I’m so glad I was able to dance with you blessed

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you for sharing and honoring your donor. It is a beautiful and paints a picture of what life means through the gift of organ and tissue donation.

    I am the volunteer program manager at Donor Network West and would really like to talk to you. My email address is kclark@dnwest.org. Our website is http://www.donornetworkwest.org/volunteers.

    Thank you and best wishes as you and your donor help to make a difference with each heartbeat and breath!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Kathleen,

    I just want to say thank you for writing and sharing this with the world. It is recipient like you that make organ procurement organization employees like me continue to do what I do even in the most stressful times.

    Again, thank you for sharing and hope you continue to use the gift of life that you received to the fullest.

    Best,

    Charles Chen
    Donation Program Consultant of Donor Network West

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Lisa Brown says:

    Hi Kathleen, I’m Nurse Brown and work with your dad. I love your blog and your words…..I feel like I know you, but I do not think we’ve met. I get updates from Craig when our paths cross and I love your honesty and passion. You do remind us to what we take for granted and that’s a good thing. Thank you for sharing and what a beautiful letter to your donor. Can’t wait to hear what else is on your bucket list!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Marty weissensee says:

    You are a fantastic writer. I hope to meet you someday. Your mom is a very very special lady. God bless you and your family and your donor. I am so so happy that you have the opportunity to live a full life. God had a plan.. I enjoyed you story. Hugs Marty

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  9. Gwenn says:

    Hello Kathleen! This is a magical, awesome tribute to your donor, your donor’s family and the gift of life given. As your journey continues, may your life grow in joy, in fortitude and peace. I am the manager of our donor family care program here at Donor Network West and I know many families would love to know how their loved ones gift has changed lives. Thank you for your inspiration! To your health!!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Diane says:

    Kathleen,
    Your words are so beautiful and they touched my heart! My name is Diane and I am a donor family member. My husband Ed died and became an organ and tissue donor 19 years ago. Ed died from injuries sustained in an auto accident. Doctors couldn’t save Ed, but Ed could save others because he was a donor. Ed saved the lives of 3 people from PA by donating his liver and 2 kidneys. Ed was a great guy who was always helping people. Even after his death, he was able to help people. I love and miss my husband very much. Ed died. That’s sad, tragic and heart-breaking. The only good thing that came out of Ed’s death was he was able to help people live. That makes me and my family very happy! Nothing makes a donor family happier than seeing a grateful recipient! Thank you for taking such good care of your gifts! Your donor angel is a Hero! I am keeping you, your donor and your donor’s family in my prayers. God Bless.
    PS – I just went to my first Cold Play concert in August. AMAZING!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Diane,
      I cannot thank you enough for writing to me. I am so touched by your story and Ed’s gifts. I believe transplant families and donor families gain a unique understanding of life – being part of the most intense pain, loss and joy at the same time is a rare and transformative experience. I’m lucky to have joined the club you are in! You are in my thoughts – thank you again!

      PS – I was so impressed by how genuine, happy and focused the members of Coldplay were! So cool to see them doing what they love and sharing it with the world. I’m glad you got to see them too!

      Like

  11. Doug Aldridge says:

    Kathleen, you may know me from my daughter, Alison Aldridge. I have also been given the gift of life with a new heart from my donor’s family, on March 18th, 2015. You are with the best team of Drs. at UT Southwestern Heart & Lung Transplant clinic. Everyday just keeps getting better and better.

    Like

  12. Kati Scheid says:

    Thank You for sharing this amazing letter. This truly made me feel so happy and proud of you for coming this far in life and knowing that there is never an end of life for you because you never gave up you showed them you can be strong, you can do anything, and most of all you gave yourself the confidence that everyone wants at some point in their lives. This letter made me speechless I enjoyed reading every word on this page and knowing that I went to Camp Taylor with you though you and I never had a chance to chat, It feels like I have known you for a life time. For ever in my prayers. Much Love – Kati. A fellow heart camper from Camp Taylor.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Catherine Krause says:

    I held you at a BBQ when you were only 3 years old. We were having a great time just playing and being together. You and I connected the way some people do. Your dad was working with me at the time in Arcata, Ca. I have not seen you since but I need to tell you that I just read your letter and I feel that same wonderful connection to you again. What a gift you are to the world. Thanks for sharing your incredible story and being such an inspiration.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Catherine Krause says:

    I have just shared your blog with my 8yr old granddaughter twins and they too want to meet you. Thank you again.

    Like

  15. Jim Cristerna says:

    Hi Kathleen,

    My name is Jim Cristerna and I’m a HealthCare recruiter. I’ve known your dad for several years and he was kind enough to share with such excitement the news of your transplants “She did it!” I heard with excitement and he also shared your blog with me. He said “not a good time Jim, let’s catch up when I return from a mini vacation we’re taking to El Capitan and instead of giving me the full blown details said here check out her blog” I had not idea as I’m not a clinician how major your situation was throughout my conversations with your dad he mentioned that you were challenged with some health issues but had no idea. I have to say, I’ve been floored with how courageous you are. I have a cold today and was going to take the day off but thought “WTH! Stop being such a baby and man up! Others have it much worse on a daily basis” People like you are so inspiring and even though I may not know you I wanted to share with you how inspiring you are. Our oldest daughter lives in Albuquerque NM, she went to school there for her RN and also found her soulmate there so this is home to her. She was home visiting this weekend and after reading your blog this weekend, I cherished every moment we had together with a new pair of eyes.

    Thank you so much for your blog of inspiration and I look forward to hearing more about your adventure!

    Congrats Kathleen, you’re an amazing person!

    jc

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Heidi says:

    Wow! Such an amazing post! I had a heart/liver transplant in 2015! You mentioned half moon bay, did you get transplanted at Stanford? That’s where I had mine 😊.

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    • Yes! Mine was at Stanford as well. I’d love to get in touch with you – maybe you can find me on Facebook? I’m seen by the Lung Transplant team, but really want to connect to heart transplant patients in the area since exercising with a denervated heart is so unique!

      Like

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