Today is a very good day. You see, seven years ago today I received my new lungs from a 29 yr old man whose family decided to donate his organs.
It’s a very good day, a day full of joy, but I also think about my donor and think this is a day of grieving and loss. . .I can’t know what is going on in their lives, but I can imagine. I still don’t know much at all about my donor or his family. I just know it was a young male, age 29. I don’t know how he died, whether he had a wife and kids and extended family. I held him in my heart today. I offered my Sunday Mass for him and his family.
After the holidays are over I intend to write again through CORE (Center for Organ Recovery and Education) to his family to let them know how well I’m doing and how very grateful I am that his family loved him enough to donate his organs so that I and others could live. What a unselfish gift from a stranger!!!
I still sometimes find it hard to wrap this transplant around my brain and really think about what happened on September 30, 2005.
I will tell you what I know happened. It was a late Thursday evening and my husband Tom and I were just getting ready to get into bed. It was around midnight. My cell phone rang about 12:15am. I began to worry that it might be bad news that someone was hurt or dead. I still hadn’t gotten used to being on a transplant list, so the thought that it might be my lungs didn’t cross my mind right then. I had only been on the list for two weeks.
I answeredd the phone and I heard my pre-transplant coordinator, Paul, on the other end. He said, “Hey Sand, this is Paul.”
I said, “Hi Paul”.
He asked, “What are ya doing?”
I answered, “Getting ready for bed.”
Paul said, “No you’re not. . .we’ve got a pair of lungs and we believe they’re just for you, so I want you to make your phone calls and get your ass over here, ok?”
That was a mind numbing phone call, literally. Instantly I went into get ready mode. I knew what I heard, but I just got things together and called my kids. Of course, right after the phone call I looked at Tom and told him, “that was Paul, they have lungs for me and we have to get to Presby as soon as possible. He looked at me and then got dressed.
I talked with Megan and Kelly and told them what was happening and they were scared, I could feel it in their voices. They told me they would be leaving for the hospital as soon as they could.
I couldn’t reach Brian, our youngest. He was out and I couldn’t reach him. I hated to do this, but I had no choice but to leave him a note on the kitchen table telling him where we were.
I distinctly remember when we left the house I turned around and looked at the house we had lived in and raised our children in and wondered if I would be coming back to live in this house again. I was slightly sad, somewhat in a numb mode, not feeling too much at that point, just asking God to please be with me and my family as we go through this. I was really more worried about my husband and kids than I was for myself.
I had told God before that whatever happened I would be ok. I was ok with whatever the outcome would be. However I did pray to God many times before to be able to live long enough to cradle my grandchildren. . .none of whom were born or conceived as yet.
Tom and I arrived at the hospital and were told to just check in and wait in the emergency lobby for someone to come and take us upstairs.
While waiting in the lobby, in the darkened area, because it was by now 1:30am, I saw a man walking through the shadows toward the doors to leave. As he came into the light I realized it was a priest that I had worked for years earlier. Now this priest had been living in California for several years and I hadn’t seen him since. I was stunned to see him there because he was always one of my most favorite people ever.
Of course he didn’t recognize me because of my illness I was puffy, had put on weight from the steroids and I was wearing oxygen. He walks past and to the doors. I told Tom, “go get him and bring him back in here.” Tom goes outside and brings Fr. Eugene in to the lobby.
As he walked toward me I said, “Eugene?” and he replied, “Yes?” I could tell by the way he answered that he had no idea who I was. So I looked at him again and said, “You don’t know who I am, do you?” He said, “Honey I don’t know anyone at 1:30 in the morning.” As I described to him who I was, that I worked for him over the years, etc., his face softened and recognition filled his face. He said, “Sandy! What are you doing here?” I told him that I was there to have a double lung transplant. I can’t describe the look on his face, only that his eyes got big, he looked at me with compassion and love.
Fr. Eugene took my hands in his and he prayed for me. He then looked at me and said all I think he could say or was able to say and that was, “I wish you all the very best.”
When he left I just knew that God had touched me. Think about this, why was this particular priest in Pittsburgh, at this particular hospital at 1:30 in the morning??? Why??? He didn’t even know that I was sick, he knew none of that.
I was convinced that I was going to be ok, I was going to survive this transplant and I would be around to tell other people that God is here with us, he cares about us with such a love that surpasses any love we as humans can feel for our own children.
There is more that God wants me to do and I will gladly do it. I feel it is my mission to let people know that God is here for you, he wants us to be happy and he wants us to be there for those we love and who love us. Isn’t this the ultimate goal of our lives, to be with God. . .but before we get to God in Heaven, we must bring God to his children here on Earth.
Of course, the rest all the things the 7 years have brought me. Since the transplant we, Tom and I have been given 4 grandchildren. As “grandma” I was so honored to be able to witness the births of all 4 of these children: Colby age 5, Nathan age 4, Maya age 3, and Natalie age 17 mos. What a world of love and fun I live in now. When I run into medical trouble or just regular life troubles I consider them as just an annoyance because I have been given this most precious gift. Any pain I suffer, I suffer for God and for those who suffer still and it’s ok with me.
I want to tell you the “rest of the story” in regards to Fr. Eugene. I didn’t see him again for 3 years. Here he was back in Pittsburgh to give a conference where I work; St. Paul of the Cross Monastery, Pittsburgh PA.
As I walked toward him he looked at me and smiled, asking, “How are you???” I told him I was doing very well. I also told him that I believed that God placed him there in that hospital that night.
He then said, “You don’t know why I was there do you?” Of course I didn’t and he said that he had just left the bedside of a friend who had died.
I then said, “Eugene, do you realize that you walked from death to life that night???”
He smiled and shook his head!