Some of you may recall the front page article by Penny Coles in the October 17, 2019 issue of The Local entitled “Organ donation needed to save the life of NOTL woman,”
With many thanks to Penny and many others, I am pleased to write that the “NOTL woman,” Diane Peirce (my wife), received the incredible gift of a living liver donation on April 29. A vibrant and selfless young woman, appropriately named Joy, from St. Catharines became Diane’s donor. What Joy has done by giving a large portion of the largest internal organ in her body and put her life on hold during a worldwide pandemic for someone she had never met may seem like unfathomable kindness to many, me included. To say that Joy, who is married with a young son, is an incredibly special person, is a huge understatement.
Diane’s journey began more that two years ago with the diagnosis of the rare liver disease, primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC). PSC resulted in end-stage liver disease. She was fortunate enough to be referred to the University Health Network (UHN) liver team in Toronto — the largest living donation program in North America, with a world-renowned team of brilliant medical professionals.
We were given the choice to wait until Diane was near death for a deceased donation (there aren’t enough deceased donations to meet demand), or pursue living donation. Although Diane was reluctant to ask for help, the choice was obvious. Family members were excluded for various health conditions, age and other matching
criteria, so we began to look outside our family for a potential donor. Our daughter Natalie and son-in-law Adrian designed the website donor4diane.com, and the rest of our family members played key roles in spreading the word and helping Diane stay safe during COVID-19.
Nearly 1,500 people visited the website, and 76 people went on to link to the UHN donor portal. These numbers may seem small in these days of millions of followers and “hits,” but keep in mind what we were asking someone to do. We only needed one matching donor.
The number of donors who volunteered to be tested has not been disclosed, but we do know that more than two people went through the entire donor evaluation process. Connie, sister to a good friend from western Ontario, was a good match, but her liver anatomy was not a perfect match for Diane. Connie agreed to be a backup donor in the event an ideal donor could not be found soon. Connie, a nurse, provided knowledgeable inspiration for Diane while the search continued. Thankfully Joy had read Diane’s story in this newspaper, and turned out to be a perfect match.
The transplant took 10 hours, in addition to the time it took to remove a large section of Joy’s liver. Her liver will regenerate in a matter of weeks — the human body never ceases to amaze. Due to COVID-19, neither of these courageous women could have visitors during their entire hospital stays. They met privately for the first time a few days after the transplant. I understand it was a highly emotional meeting, with a few (very gentle) hugs. The rest of our family look forward to meeting Joy when it is safe. Diane says it perfectly and simply.
“She is lovely” . . . no surprise to anyone! Both women were discharged from the hospital well ahead of schedule, one week after the transplant, and are recovering well at home.
My wife has inspired me through her ordeal. She has be a “rock.” The matriarch of our family, she lived in the “now” and never once expressed self-sympathy, even when she learned her mother had passed after a long battle with dementia, only hours after I brought her home from her transplant. The tears she cried for her mom where soon replaced by a smile, as she watched through the window as our little granddaughter Olive played in the backyard (socially distanced of course). No doubt she had thoughts of the endless circle of life. Diane hopes her story will inspire others to consider living organ donations.
Joy’s gift has reached far beyond Diane. She has enhanced the lives of our daughters and their families, her three sisters and their families, my extended family and our friends. But best of all, Olive may now have her beloved, gentle, powerful “Mimi” to help guide her until she is a young woman. It also seems likely that Joy has inspired others to save lives through living donation.
There are too many others to thank for Diane’s miracle here — physicians, nurses, patient coordinators, medical professionals, family, friends and well-wishers. We Canadians have a powerful sense of reciprocity. We like to repay kindness bestowed, but how can you possibly repay a gift of life. All we can do is our best to pay it forward.
Editor’s note: Diane and Joy need a bit of time to rest and recover before talking about their experience. We understand readers will want to know more about how Diane is doing, and also more about how Joy came to the decision that she could be a donor — we do to! Stay tuned. We’ll have that story for you as soon as Diane and Joy feel strong enough to share it.