Thank You Day 2017

This fortnight, I was fortunate to attend three special events – all of which are close to my heart.

Last week I spoke about WAYRBA (West Australian Young Readers’ Book Award) at a Library and Information Focused Training PD day for library staff on why I believe children’s choice awards are so important to encourage young people to read. In addition, for authors, a shortlisting on a children’s choice award is confirmation that their words have spoken to their target audience.

On Tuesday I attended the ‘Writing For Life 2017 Prize-giving Ceremony’ held by DonateLife WA and sponsored by DonorMate. I was one of three judges for the competition, alongside fellow SCBWI member Nadia L King and Brigid Lowry. It was a competition that I judged with both my writing hat, and as a transplant recipient.
For me, three entries stood out above the crowd. Not all of them won their categories, but all of them caused an emotional reaction – and that sometimes is more important than having a technically well written piece.
One of these, written from the perspective of a transplant recipient, contained a paragraph that perfectly summed up my own feelings. The other two were written from the perspective of a donor family member and both made me cry.

On Friday as a volunteer Role Model for Books In Homes, I spoke to the students at Majella Catholic Primary School during their Book Giving assembly about my lifelong love of books, and how I have made a career out of my love of reading, despite being told by high school guidance councillor that it simply wasn’t feasible. Thanks to the sponsor Mainfreight Australia, the students were each given three books to take home and treasure. It was an honour to be part of such a worthwhile program.

Seven years ago, the thought of having enough energy to simply attend these events, let alone speak would have been impossible. Seven years ago I was in Stage 1 Respiratory Failure and about to be listed on the transplant waitlist. Seven years ago, I could barely breathe let alone have enough spare breath to say a word or two without gasping.

At the 2016 DonateLife WA Honour Ceremony when asked what I would say to my donor family if I had the opportunity, I had this to say,
“The gift that results in a transplant is between strangers, but it is also a deeply personal gift, which makes the words thank you seem a little inadequate. It’s more than a physical gift – it also carries the opportunity to have a future, a second chance.
I will never meet or know the person who gave me this second chance, but I think about them every day.
So, to their family I would say, you made an important decision, one that made a great difference to my life and the best way I can show my gratitude is to take the best care of these wonderful lungs that you entrusted me with, to live life well and to the full.”

This past fortnight, I’ve shared my passion for both writing and reading and I hope that in some way I contributed to making a difference in someone’s life. Because making a difference fits my definition of living my life well and it’s the best way I can say Thank You.

Sunday 19th November 2017 is the national Thank You Day for Donor Families.

Walking Chaweng Beach, April 2017

At the beginning of my last holiday to Thailand, in 2010, I turned 38. It was a holiday I struggled with both physically and mentally.

Earlier that year, while on holiday in Egypt, I had used the Robber’s Tunnel to climb inside the Great Pyramid of Giza to see the King’s Chamber. It had been a hard physical climb for me, and I’d spent most of it breathless. But once back in the open air, I had regained my breath quickly. My lung function had dropped recently from the 80% capacity I had lived with most of my adult life to 45%.
At that time, everything I did seemed harder and took longer with recovery no longer a quick bounce back. Yet I never imagined that I would be contemplating a lung transplant 10 months later. Because to me, this was just another infection, and in time with some hard work, my body would mend.

Egypt, January 2010

But there I was in Koh Samui, 10 months later struggling to walk. Clinically, I was in respiratory failure, my lung function having dropped below 30% and my medical team firmly pushing me towards being listed for transplant. I however, resisted. Stubborn as always I’d waved my hands and proclaimed this was just another infection. A nasty one sure, but I would get over it. I would bounce back. And off on holiday I went.

Koh Samui experienced heavy rainfall right before we landed. Everything was flooded, leaving us with the option of walking up the same street every day. I often joke that it didn’t matter because that was the only street I was capable of walking up.

The heavy rainfall had also affected hotel services. In particular the elevators were out of order. Thankfully there were chairs at the top of every staircase because now I not only needed to rest when I climbed the stairs, I also needed to rest when I went down a flight of stairs.

Samui Walking Street, November 2010

On Grant’s birthday we decided to walk along the beach towards a delightful beachfront restaurant that Grant had spied. Grant did all the talking. I had lost the capacity to walk and talk at the same time midway through the year, so Grant chatted to me as we walked. He also carried my handbag, as even the weight of something as small as a handbag could determine how many rest stops I would need to catch my breath.

I vividly remember feeling so proud of myself. I had only had three rest stops so far and in my mind I was coping with this stroll. That’s when an elderly couple, both with walking sticks passed us easily, as if I had been standing still. As they did, they were both avidly chatting to one another, and proceeded all the way up the beach without stopping once.

That was the moment that I realised I was out of options.
This wasn’t a nasty infection that had lingered way too long.
This was my body losing the war against Cystic Fibrosis.

The week we returned home, I completed my final medical exam and was officially listed for transplant.

When we decided to return to Koh Samui, there was one thing I needed to do. Although we are staying on the other side of the island this time, today we returned to walk along Chaweng beach. I carried my own handbag and I talked while we walked.

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Sometimes, post transplant, it’s the little things in life that I am most grateful for.

2016 DonateLife WA Honour Ceremony

This special ceremony honours those people, and their families, who made the decision to donate their organs at a time of great loss. My gratitude and respect, not only for those involved in the decision that resulted in my transplant, but for all the families who have said yes, cannot be put into words. I was honoured to be asked to participate in this special ceremony on Sunday night.

Donate Life, Service of Remembrance 2016

Donate Life, Service of Remembrance 2016

I usually speak to students about my journey, and my presentations are very visual. Each presentation is always different, often lead by the questions that curious young minds ask. Speaking to over 600 people who had found the selflessness to think of others and consented to organ donation, was a hugely humbling experience.

It was an opportunity, not to educate or inform, but to give thanks to these families and a chance to explain how my life was changed by a decision such as theirs.

 

With my wonderful Pop, 1975

With my wonderful Pop, 1975

In my lifelong battle with Cystic Fibrosis, even my earliest memories revolve around endless medications, nebulisers and the dreaded twice daily physio. In the final months before my transplant, I was literally clinging to life by my fingernails, somehow making do with a scant .37 litre lung function.

With my son, Jarryn and my loyal Monkey Dog , January 2011

A transplant isn’t a cure it’s a trade, but what a wonderful trade it has been for me. There is a very simple pleasure in waking up and knowing that I can take a deep pain-free breath without struggling, a joy knowing that each breath will be followed by another, and another – because these wonderful lungs do what they were meant do, naturally and without effort.

My transplant was more than a second chance, it’s allowed me to realise my potential and achieve goals I could only dream about before, only made possible because someone had the generosity to say “yes” to organ donation.

Sun Setting over the 2016 Ceremony. Photo credit Georgia

Sun Setting over the 2016 Ceremony.
Photo credit Georgia

I’ve not had the opportunity to speak to my donor’s family, however Sunday night was an opportunity to express my gratitude in a different way.

“The gift that results in a transplant is between strangers, but it is also a deeply personal gift, which makes the words thank you seem a little inadequate. It’s more than a physical gift – it also carries the opportunity to have a future, a second chance.

I will never meet or know the person who gave me this second chance, but I think about them every day.

So, to their family I would say, you made an important decision, one that made a great difference to my life and the best way I can show my gratitude is to take the best care of these wonderful lungs that you entrusted me with, to live life well and to the full.”

 

With Anna and Greg earlier in the day for our media interviews.

With Anna and Greg earlier in the day for our media interviews.