Kerry's Causes, Memoir Monday

Be A Donor

Just the other day I saw a news story about the province of Nova Scotia considering making organ donation upon death the norm unless a person specifically chooses to opt out. Canada is nowhere near the top of the list of countries with the highest organ donor rates in the world. Spain is on top and the US is ahead as well.

I know this is a complicated issue and I am sensitive to it, on both sides. I don’t have the easy answers here. I wish I did. Some say that proposed suggestion is a civil rights infringement. I can see where they are coming from, of course I can.

April is Organ and Tissue Donation Month and this past week was National Organ and Tissue Donor Awareness Week
If you’re having a hard time keeping that all straight, you’re not alone. I find it difficult when just about every day, week, and month represent some organization or important cause of some kind. It’s definitely necessary, but with all the causes needing their own dates to help bring awareness to the issues, the calendar fills up quickly.

This is most important to me, obviously, because of how necessary organ donation has been for my family. I am determined to use this blog as a platform to discuss these things and to help spread the word. Without the internet and social media it wouldn’t be this easy for me to do. I can write, but it doesn’t help anybody if people don’t get the chance to read it.

I was used to the way we’d done it. As a child I didn’t think twice about my parent’s choices. Of course I was nervous for them when they went in for surgery, putting their lives at risk, small comparatively, but still present. I worried for them and held my breath until they were both out of surgery and recovered. Really though they were adults and I was the child. They were the parents. There was no question.

When it became reality, as an adult, that my baby brother (even if he was in his twenties) would be depending on the organ donor list the second time around, a whole new reality formed around the situation. I had no idea how I would handle the feelings and fears that go along with the transplant list.

The wait and the uncertainty were the first things, but that would fade away the moment I realized he was getting his chance.

It felt like ages, for him more than me, that he was on dialysis this time, but really it was only three years. I say only, but dialysis can become awfully tedious when it goes on day after day, month after month. For those who are on dialysis for extended periods of time, years and years, it becomes routine, just one more thing you do, like brushing your teeth, going to work or school, or cleaning the bathroom. Sure, it’s unpleasant, but the alternative is unimaginable.

This week will mark one year since the evening I received the call that they contacted him with a kidney. I was exhilarated and anxious and ready to rush off to London to be by his side.

When that call was almost immediately followed up by another to say it was a false alarm, the rush abruptly ended and we were back to waiting.

Within a few months it would happen for real. It went smoothly for the most part, and he has felt 100 percent better ever since.

What I wasn’t prepared for were those feelings of morbid curiosity and sadness for the people also involved, somewhere on the other side. They lost their loved one and would never get to see them again. I felt guilt for that and I felt guilt for feeling guilty. My brother was well again and that was the main thing. I didn’t have to know anything concrete about anyone or anything else. That’s just life I suppose and that’s what I now know firsthand makes these issues anything but black-and-white.

The reality is that people do die and we are able, with modern medical science, to help others in the face of those tragedies. Why wouldn’t we do what we could with that? I don’t know. All I know is that I love my brother and want him to be healthy. That’s the simplest answer I can come up with for the need for more donors. More families deserve a second chance. These issues are complex, staggeringly so. I want to make everyone aware of the reality of organ donation in the hopes of having a discussion. Life is precious, on both sides. I will never stop speaking my mind and telling my story when it comes to organ donation.

Kerry's Causes, Throw-back Thursday

National Volunteer Week 2014

At the time I thought it an odd paring, Ronald McDonald House right next door to a shelter for run-away teens and street kids. I must admit, as a fourteen-year-old I was nervous to walk by there on my way to and from visiting Sick Kids Hospital. There were always teenagers mingling around on the sidewalk and I didn’t know what to make of them. I was in a huge city and there was so much going on, I had no idea at the time what to make of the paring.

On this Throw-back Thursday I think back to fifteen years ago this month. I was with my family, yet again, staying in Toronto while this time it was my younger brother who was the transplant patient and it was my mother’s turn to give one of her children the ultimate gift any parent could ever give.
Once again my family rallied around us. My grandparents were staying with us. They loved stepping up and taking care of us all, and the experience once more of staying at Ronald McDonald House in Toronto.

I had completed most of my first year in high school. After a year of high school firsts: new courses, new friends, and a surgery of my own we were staying at the Ronald MCDonald House on Gerrard Street for the second time. I had been dealing with chronic headaches all year and nothing could be found to explain why.
After many neurologist appointments and tests all my doctors hoped a surgery to correct scoliosis would fix the problem.
It seemed to be working. I was leaving the role of patient behind and taking up the role of care giver to my mother and brother. I was out of the pressure of high school, drama, and dating and into an environment and a role I was much better fitted for.

Back in our room at the house I stood under the hot water of the shower, letting the stress of only the first few hours of the morning of the surgery melt away, I hoped all was going well in the two separate operating rooms just down the street.
For the next few days we would walk back and forth from hospital to Ronald McDonald House, several times a day, passing those homeless youth, my guide dog Croche soon memorizing the route from one to the other. Those April days seemed to fly by, of course I wasn’t the one in hospital and hooked up to iv’s this time, but I also had no clue how much it meant to the teens just next door to even get a hot shower everyday.

Clang! As the little gate would shut and I would be past the fear I felt when walking by those meandering kids, the safety of the locked and secure Ronald McDonald House door was always waiting. Only families who were registered there with children who were sick could have the pass code to get in.
Once that door closed behind us we felt at home. I felt like this was just another family vacation we were all on and this was a hotel we were guests of.

Right in the heart of downtown Toronto was this haven for my family and myself, always there when we needed a place to stay. Sure, it was only after my brother or myself underwent serious operations, but it always meant the world that this place existed. With everything else we had to worry about, finding some place to stay wasn’t an issue. We had a place we could stay as a family, to be together when we needed to be nearby for my brother and mother both.

Heaven forbid anyone ever need it, but it is there when they do. It wasn’t until years later that I found the irony in the home for families with sick children, (a home away from home as it’s sometimes called) and the home for children who have no family to rally about them or even know it when they’re in trouble, being side by side. I realize now the connection between these two much needed refuges: the people who make them possible: the volunteers.

I want to thank all the giving individuals who selflessly offer their time and their energies. These are only two examples of organizations for children which do incredible work each and every day for our world’s most vulnerable, those most in need. I understand now why in an odd sort of way, the two houses belong beside each other, two houses full of dedicated staff and volunteers, put there to help frightened and in need children. I had a family to support me, while lots of those kids did not. Your family doesn’t have to be related by blood for it to make a difference.

These are just two of the wonderful organizations, specifically to help out children and young people. Please check out their websites, I’ve listed below, plus two more. Volunteers make a lot of the services and programs run by these organizations possible. They deserve some recognition and Covenant House and Ronald McDonald House will be around for a long time to come with the generosity of those who volunteer.