I had lunch with a miracle the other day. Oh, she looked ordinary enough, and the other restaurant patrons may not have paid much attention to the attractive, energetic woman in animated conversation with me, but if they knew what I knew, they might have stared in wonder.
The miracle, the wonder of her, if you will, is the fact that she was there at all. It is a miracle born of modern medicine, of her determination and the support of family and friends, but most importantly, of a series of selfless decisions made by people she will never know.
Born with a condition that left her lungs defenseless against the mildest of environmental assaults, my friend Holly was in serious decline by her late 30s. Unless something changed, she was going to slowly suffocate. Then, because of the ultimate act of charity by a stranger, Holly received a double lung transplant.
In addition to the skill of her medical team and that stranger’s gift of life, Holly’s continued presence in our lives is also the result of strict adherence to a lifelong regimen of powerful immunosuppression drugs and an obsessive vigilance against infections of any sort. Her dogged efforts in this regard demonstrate great respect for the gift she received.
Long-term survival rates for double lung transplant recipients are still uncertain – only 50 percent after five years – but Holly has beaten those odds. She is in year 16, and making the most of her new, post-transplant life.
She works hard as the volunteer coordinator for a local family services agency, plays a pretty decent game of tennis (she and a partner medaled in doubles at the U.S. Transplant Games) and is a dynamo in whatever she tackles.
As well as helping to improve her community, Holly provides critical emotional and physical support to her husband, David, a man who was there to provide the same for her when she was facing her health crises. In one of those bittersweet ironies the universe seems so fond of, Dave’s condition was becoming more serious just as Holly’s was becoming less so, and this gave her the opportunity to return his loving favors.
And for me personally, someone who also suffers from a serious lung condition, Holly’s example of how to cope with it while preparing for the possibility of something as risky and frightening as a major organ transplant has been invaluable. She has been my role model and mentor.
As I sat there at lunch that day, I couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if the family of the person whose lungs now live inside her had not consented to the organ donation. In the midst of their own grief they were called upon to do for others, for people whom they did not know, and they came through. Reminiscent of “It’s A Wonderful Life,” I thought about how Holly’s post-transplant life has rippled out to touch so many of us, and was grateful again for their selfless act.
Unfortunately, and despite vigorous efforts to educate the public and the passage of laws designed to encourage them, organ donations have not kept up with the demand. Eighteen people die every day while waiting for a transplant.
If more people could experience what it’s like to sit down to lunch with a miracle, I feel certain that would change.
For more information about how you can give the gift of life, visit http://unyts.org/get-involved /donor-registry/.