The day our paths collided, you became my lifeline. I was, you see, in a far worse position than I allowed myself to believe. At best, I had mere weeks left to live, yet somehow I convinced myself that there were months, and many of them. That denial regarding the true state of my health gave me the determination to cling to life.
To be brutally honest, I didn’t give much thought to the origin of my new lungs, which makes my discussions seem a little clinical now. But please understand, this was a coping mechanism – I was hanging on by my fingernails, existing on hope, and although I knew someone else had to die, I didn’t dwell on it. There is a sense of desperation, a willingness to embrace any option when your time starts running out.
In my yearning to continue living, I never thought of you as a person. As an individual with hopes and dreams. Instead, donated lungs were an abstract concept, part of a selfless act that would save my life. Donated from a generous individual and with consent from a family brave and strong, who during a dark and horrible day and in the midst of their grief, still thought of others.
Reflecting back makes me feel a little callous and shallow because I think about you every day now. I’m so consciously aware that these lungs, now a part of me, once belonged to you. And you are someone real. Someone who breathed, walked and talked. Someone who was happy and sad. Someone who loved and was loved. Someone who gave me much more than a second chance. Someone to whom I will always be connected, although I will never know you.
I am entrusted with the guardianship of taking care of a part of you, and with it comes the responsibility to live life well and to the fullest. Since the day your lungs became a part of me, I’ve experienced many milestones, both big and small. My extra time has not been wasted.
More importantly, there is a simple pleasure in waking each morning to take a sweet breath without coughing, without gasping, without pain. And each wonderful breath is followed by another. Because your lungs, our lungs, do what lungs are supposed to, naturally and without effort, giving me more energy to pour into the world and make a difference to those things that matter most to me.
I am not who I was before the transplant, although I am still me. My son describes my changes succinctly. I am, he says, who I was always meant to be. But of my changes, great and small, perhaps the ones with no explanation fascinate me the most, as if a part of you has imprinted onto me.
The words “my donor” always leave a bureaucratic taste in my mouth. To me, it reflects an impersonal nature, as if this had been an ordinary transaction between strangers. There is nothing ordinary about this; it feels deeply personal to me. You’ve given me so much more than a second chance; it’s as if the final jigsaw piece has slotted into place and now I’m complete. As long as I continue to breathe, your contribution to my life will never be forgotten. I have this fervent wish that wherever you are, you know what an impact you’ve had.
There is nowhere I can send this letter, it has no address. So instead, I’ll send two little words out into the universe and hope that somehow they find you and let you know you made a difference.
Sunday 20th November 2016 is national Thank You Day for our fabulous organ donors and their families.
This letter also appears on The Mighty under the title To the Person Who Gave Me a New Set of Lungs