As part of our recent Christmas Campaign, we had grateful recipient Fiona Walker share how her pancreas and kidney transplants have enabled her to go from being very sick with an uncertain future, to now pursuing her dreams and giving back to the community as a paramedic.
Celebrating her ten-year transplant anniversary this past summer was a reflective experience, motivating Fiona to write this impassioned letter to her donor that was shared with her family and friends. It was a way to say thank you to everyone for their support and to offer a glimpse into the transplant journey, from illness to health.
An Open Letter To My Organ Donor
From a young age I have always appreciated a good bag. Good bones, good looking, and strong enough to hold the weight of the world, but light enough to stay afloat. The last ten years have taught me what matters and what I stand for. They have also taught me what to bring to the hospital: clean underwear, a phone charger, and a good sense of humor.
Ten years ago, as I dragged my bag through the airport, I thought of you. As I boarded the plane with a worried looking WestJet employee looking at me like I was a poorly timed Christmas turkey, I thought of you. When that same employee urged me to accept a wheeled ride to the taxi that would take me to my new beginning at a Vancouver hospital, I thought of you.
In those moments alone in the airport, I nervously took one step forward, and about thirty steps to the left. I marched myself to the nearest cold drink machine, took an unmeasured swig of Diet Coke and made a secret toast to you, to our organs, and to our new life. To this point, I had been on kidney dialysis for five years, and a type 1 diabetic for twenty-one years. As I tucked my pop bottle into my bag, the enormity of the occasion began to hit me.
Your worst day became my next day. I often wonder how your last moments were spent. I am the same age today as you were when you took your last breath in an ICU bed. The age I never thought I would reach, and the age you probably thought you would surpass. I have a strange relationship with death, I am more at ease with it than most, and yet not too comfortable to make it morbid. I, too, have been in that ICU bed.
I carry powerful memories with me – the nurse who braided my hair in my first ICU bed, the terror I felt after waking up covered in blood after I had unknowingly pulled out my foley in my sleep, and the faces of family and friends who came to kiss me a final goodbye on more than one occasion. My greatest wish, dear donor, is that you were loved, that you died a peaceful death, and that your loved ones got a chance to say goodbye.
I have learned that people will come and go from your life, some show up in a crisis, and some disappear. I have been labeled a drug seeker by the jaded emergency room nurse, and too complex by the physician. I have been misjudged for staying home, lost my most treasured allies, risen to the occasion, and fell flat on my face. I have remained relatively unscathed with no major vices or addictions, no major mental health issues. I have become comfortable in my own skin and deepened my sense of humor. The lessons I have learned are invaluable, and the stories I have to tell are endless. This, dear donor, is because of you.
I used to be embarrassed that I was sick. I felt my friends were frustrated with my lack of reliability. In my efforts to shield them from my darkest days, I unknowingly robbed them of the chance to understand, the chance to show up, and the chance to see my vulnerability. I have learned to give people a chance.
I am so lucky to have gone through what I have; I don’t want a life without challenges. I am stronger and more resilient than I thought possible.
The marker of a good bag is when you push it to its limits it won’t rip apart at the seams. One could say the same about me: she’s a good old bag.
I raise my glass (or Diet Coke bottle) to you as a toast on our 10-year anniversary together.
All my love,
Kidney and Pancreas Recipient
To make a donation and support transplant research visit —-> https://www.trfbc.org/give/donate/