Organ Donation: Giving - and receiving - the gift of life
The gift of life is something most parents give their child only once.
But not Crystal Ogden.
“People tell me I gave her life twice.”
In 2013, Ogden donated part of her liver to her daughter Cadence, who was just five years old when she learned she needed a liver transplant.
At age two, Cadence was diagnosed with Alpha 1-antitrypsin deficiency – a genetic disease that can affect a person’s liver and lungs.
“Her liver essentially looked like a 40-year-old with cirrhosis,” says Ogden.
From age two to five, Cadence’s condition got progressively worse. Trips to the QEH and IWK hospitals to undergo testing and treatment were becoming increasingly frequent.
“We knew at that point it was bad.”
In July of 2013, doctors sent Ogden, her husband, and her daughter to Toronto to meet with a transplant team and determine if Cadence was suitable for the life-saving surgery.
“Within two days, they called us and said she was on the waiting list.”
That’s when doctors asked Ogden and her husband the question that would change the family’s lives.
“They said, ‘Did you ever consider being living donors?’”
That was the eye-opener, says Ogden, because she and her husband had still been “in denial” about the seriousness of Cadence’s condition and hadn’t thought about testing their own compatibility as liver donors.
On September 20, after a week of tests and scans, Ogden was approved as a match. And on September 23, 2013, Cadence received 35 per cent of her mother’s liver.
Today, Cadence is a happy and healthy 14-year-old.
“It was the best decision I ever made,” says Ogden. “I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
As in Ogden’s case, organ and tissue donation isn’t a topic many Islanders might think about – until they’re faced with a life-altering decision, like the one Ogden and her husband had to make.
But that wasn’t the case for Martha Carmichael.
“We always talked about the importance of organ donation – me, my sister, and my family.”
She was like “the organ donor police,” says Carmichael of her sister Hannah – her only sibling.
“In high school, when everybody was getting their driver’s license, she’d go around and ask all of her friends if they had checked off the organ donor part of their card and talk to them about the importance of it.”
That’s why, Carmichael says, it was easy for her family to make the decision to donate Hannah’s organs, after she died due to complications from Crohn’s disease in 2011.
“Then there was a two-second pause – and then there were four voices that said ‘Yes.’”
Carmichael, who is a physician based in Summerside, says it was an easy decision because the family had those conversations many times, over many years. And they knew it was what Hannah would want.
“Her lungs went to one person, one kidney to another person, her other kidney and pancreas to another person – and her liver went to a little girl who had already had a failed transplant.”
It was the only silver lining on “a really, really dark cloud,” she says.
“To think that on your worst day, other people are getting the phone call that is changing their lives.”
Both Ogden and Carmichael want Islanders to know how important it is to consider organ and tissue donation and to communicate their personal choices with loved ones.
“If they read a story or hear a positive story about organ donation, they might make a different choice,” says Carmichael.