My mom and I would not be able to tell my transplant story if a donor family had not made the difficult decision to donate their loved ones organs. This decision has given me the “Gift of Life”. It has also given me the chance to go after my dreams, and to look to the future with the hope of fulfilling them.
Let’s go back a few weeks in my story… Some days I really battled to breathe. I was having episodes where I would suddenly become severely cyanotic, even on permanent oxygen.
On this specific morning I had been listed as urgent on the transplant waiting list. Mom and dad knew I was struggling physically more and more. I could see the stress in their eyes. That night we sat around the dinner table and talked about the reality that I probably would not receive an organ transplant because of the lack of donor referrals, especially in KwaZulu Natal. This was an issue for my transplant, as I needed a local donor because of all my previous surgeries, which would make a transplant operation more complicated.
In lieu of this challenge I had to think about what I wanted to happen if I died? I know that with organ donation it helps if the family knows the wishes of the donor as this often makes their decision easier. I guess they wanted to be sure for me. To be 19 years old and to be discussing what should happen after my death may be weird for some people, but it wasn’t weird for me as we had done this before. So I gave my mom and dad my list again:
- When I die, I want to donate whatever organs and tissue that can be used. (I had registered as an organ and tissue donor years before.)
- I don’t want to be kept alive on machines if there is no hope of a recovery – and I want to be cremated.
- I wanted my parents to promise that they would work really hard on reaching my goal of getting 50 000 more people registered as organ and tissue donors in South Africa.
- I wanted my parents to make sure that they raised the money to bring a “Heart in a Box” machine from the USA to South Africa or any other device to help in the transplant process. The “Heart in a Box” costs in the region of a million dollars…
It may seem that I was giving my parents a tough task, but both of my parents have been my rocks over all these years. I know I wouldn’t be where I am today without their love and support. I know if they set their minds to something, trust me, it gets done.
About two weeks after this discussion, we had finished supper, the dishes were done and we were relaxing. Mom went off to work on our Facebook pages and I was watching TV. Then a weird thing happened – Aunty Cindy called me – those who know Aunty Cindy know she doesn’t call – she WhatsApps! She asked me to please ask my mom to answer her phone.
Mom also knows that Aunty Cindy doesn’t call. Later that night Mom told me that when she saw that she had THREE missed calls she knew…
It’s funny, but when we get the opportunity that we have been asking, hoping and praying for, we often go into denial. Mom called Aunty Cindy back and she tells me that she just started talking about all sorts of random stuff not related to me or transplants. Aunty Cindy had to interrupt her TWICE to say “Janet we have a possible donor for Matthew…” before she really “heard it”. Aunty Cindy told mom that she needed to measure my chest size to check for compatibility.
Then it finally registered with mom and she put down the phone and went crying to tell dad. She then came to me and told me what Aunty Cindy had said and that she needed to measure my chest circumference, sternum length, my height and weight. After mom had called Aunty Cindy back with the measurements, we stood in the kitchen dazed. I remember dad saying to me, “Matthew, you are 19 years old; you are old enough to make and accept responsibility for the decisions that affect your body. You know the risks are high – in fact you might not survive the surgery but you also may not get this chance again. What do you want to do?”
My answer was “I want to do it!” Once we knew it may go ahead we started packing bags. These had been packed and unpacked a number of times over the almost 7 years wait. Dad, my brother and I went off to bed and I believe mom cleaned the house as she couldn’t sleep.
We were up and off to the hospital early the next morning…