Thursday, November 3, 2016

This was an article I wrote back in 2013 for Carolina Donor Services newsletter.

Coming Full Circle: A Transplant Coordinator Becomes a Donor Sister
It was January 27th 2012, only about an hour after heroic measures were ceased and we said goodbye, that I found myself sitting in my office with my husband beside me talking on the phone about donation. This wasn’t supposed to be much anger and grief pulsing through my veins. I’m a lung transplant coordinator. I’m the one who calls people at any hour of the day or night to tell them there is a possible donor for them. I’m the one who calls that person back hours later to tell them if it’s a “go” or a “no go”. I’m the one who calls the operating room and communicates the fact that someone is about to receive the gift of life. But at that moment in time, I was not that person. I was not the hospital employee. I was the sister who had just unexpectedly lost her only sibling.

Will had just turned 30 years old. It was an extra special birthday and not because of the 30 year milestone. It was extra special because Will was alive. Rewinding to Mother’s Day 2009, I could not have told you if Will would ever see his 30th birthday. That day in May, our family’s world was turned upside down by tragedy.

It was 6pm and I called Will to see if he had gotten a Mother’s Day card for our mom and to see if he was headed home to have dinner with our folks. A strange voice answered his cell phone. It was a police officer who informed me that Will had just crashed his motorcycle and was being airlifted to a major medical center in Boston. I remember the officer asking how he could get a hold of my parents. I gave him their phone number, hung up with him, and in a sheer panic I frantically dialed my folks to break the news to them before a strange person would have to. Will’s injuries included a moderate brain bleed and a spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed from the nipple line down. It was terrifying to see him laying there in the bed on the ventilator wondering if and when he would wake up. The day he did wake up on the ventilator and showed us that his brain was going to be ok was a big relief, but there we were, facing the reality of his paralysis. Will went on to complete months of intensive therapy and learn how to live life as a paraplegic. After completing rehab, he came to live with me and my husband in NC. We all adjusted to his “new life” and watched him pursue many endeavors. He did not let his paralysis get in the way of his life. Before his accident he was an avid snowboarder and a very physically active and fit young man. In the two years following his crash, we watched him mono-ski, tandem surf, and get involved in competitive kayaking and sled hockey. He was a role model and an inspiration to everyone whose lives he touched, including me. He truly loved life.

Now, fast-forward to January 27th, 2012. To unexpectedly lose him after such a tragic accident was, and continues to be, heartbreaking. Will had some genetic clotting disorders which predisposed him to forming blood clots. He was admitted to the hospital on January 26th and went into sudden cardiac arrest 24 hours later as a result of a pulmonary embolism. I continue to struggle with the fact he is gone, but I do find comfort in the countless memories we shared together. I also take great comfort in the fact that he was able to help others even after his death. Will was truly a kindhearted soul, and it was his wish to be a donor. The following is an excerpt from his obituary, “He will be remembered by his friendly nature and contagious smile. His willingness to help others was a testament to just how kindhearted he was.”
Written by:
Emily Johnson, Donor Sister 

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