This organ donor is living proof

Ashley Brown

Even though it was just before her own birthday, Ashley Brown was the one who was giving gifts.

While living in Alberta in 2016, Brown gave an 18-month-old girl a quarter of her liver and a second chance at life. A tattoo on her right arm identifies her as a “living donor.”

“If you asked me to relive it all over again, I would,” said Brown, the co-host of Prince Edward Island’s Hot 105.5 FM morning radio show.

Living donors can give a portion of their healthy liver, since it is the only vital organ that can regenerate itself. In Brown’s case, the tip of her liver was transplanted into the toddler and is expected to grow with her through adulthood.

Islanders who are interested in donating a part of their liver can find more information at Make it Zero

Brown made the decision to become a living donor -- despite her family and fiancé’s concerns -- after the topic kept 'appearing' to her.

“I used to watch Grey’s Anatomy and, in the show, Meredith donates her liver tissue. Then I read in the news about the Ottawa Senators’ owner Eugene Melnyk, who made a public plea for a living organ donation and has since founded the Organ Project aimed at saving more lives by ending the organ transplant waiting list.

Then 28, she knew she was a good candidate because she was young and healthy and could take short term disability from work to recover.  It was a long approval process with lots of tests and interviews “to give you lots of time to back out,” she laughs.

The surgery itself wasn’t without complications. Ashley had a few setbacks in her recovery, but now, two years later, her liver has fully regenerated. Since surgeons had to cut through her abdominal wall, she’s left with a large backwards L-shaped scar but no regrets.

“I couldn’t think of a better reason to have a scar,” she said. “I was so excited to be able to do this.”

Islanders can also be a living donor by donating one of their kidneys. One of the two kidneys is surgically removed from the donor and then transplanted into someone in need. In a healthy donor, the remaining kidney will compensate for the removed kidney, and the donor can live a normal life.

PEI’s Organ and Tissue Donation and Transplant Program works closely with living donor transplant programs in Nova Scotia and Ontario to support Islanders interested in donating part of their liver or a kidney to a loved one or to an individual who is on a wait list.

Currently, 13 of 16 Islanders waiting for an organ transplant are in need of either a kidney or liver transplant.

In May 2018, PEI launched a campaign encouraging Islanders to consider becoming organ and tissue donors called Make it Zero.

“Being an organ or tissue donor can help so many people,” said Angela Carpenter, the province's organ and tissue donation and transplant manager. “Being a donor can change someone’s life, it can save someone’s life. Ashley’s story and the stories from organ or tissue recipients featured in our campaign are proof of that. Together, we can make the wait list zero.”

Brown’s own transplant team will follow her health for the next decade, with blood tests and follow up ultrasounds of her liver.

“It’s not an easy thing, but I didn’t have to die to do this - we can both live full lives,” she said.

“You’re not just saving the life of that one person, but you’re changing the life of all the people who love them. It really is the gift of life.”

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