Two years ago today Ana had a liver transplant. It saved her life, but at the expense of someone else’s life. His family remembers this as a day of sorrow, and I remember it as a day of joy.
There are special days in our lives that are given – birthdays, holidays, graduations, weddings…we mark them on the calendar and in our minds. We celebrate with gifts and flowers. We remember – over and over again – we remember. These days are expected and shared. They’re tradition, and we honor them.
And there are days that were once meaningless until something happens to change that. The day I found out my baby would be born with a cleft lip. The day her lip was repaired. The day I found out my child had cancer. The day she was cured (or so we thought). The day the cancer came back.
These days punctuate the calendar of my mind, a landscape of memories that stir up a host of emotions that I have absolutely no control over.
He died in a hospital after having been shot in the head. He lay on the street bleeding for half a day. He had two young sons. He was 33. He is part of Ana. He’s the reason she’s alive today.
Thank the universe for him.
She was sick for six months and getting sicker. She was painfully thin, constantly in pain. She had stopped growing. I was getting ready to donate half my own liver. We were all terrified that we would lose her.
She was almost too sick for surgery. She had the RSV virus and they were worried the anti-rejection medication (a tremendously large dose of it) would decimate her immune system and let the virus flourish in her body. We stayed up all night in he ER and waited. When she finally got clearance we were all relieved – even Ana. And then they took her away.
Ana’s first birthday is May 16th, 2001.
Her second birthday is February 5th, 2013.
Not a single day goes by that I don’t think about her donor and silently thank him for signing the back of his driver’s license. Did he do it because he had kids of his own? Did he do it because he knew someone who had a transplant? Did his family agree to donate his liver – as a way to help him live on? I don’t know. All I know is that Ana is alive today because of him. I am so thankful for his gift. I wasn’t a registered donor before my child needed a transplant. I am now.
I will always be grateful to Ana’s care team – Dr. Kato, the brilliant transplant surgeon and his team of professionals who made sure Ana was safe the entire time. Dr. Martinez, Ana’s hepatologist, who is quite possibly the most intuitive, caring physician I’ve ever met, and Dr. Hochberg – who was Ana’s oncologist at the time.
I am deeply grateful to our network of friends, family and community as well – to everyone who was with us that day, and the harrowing days following, bringing us food, driving to and from the hospital, and lending support (in the form of love, food and treasure). Special thanks to my sister-in-law Amy who drove Jim home the night of the transplant because he was too exhausted to drive himself, only to turn around and drive him back because Ana had a blood clot and had to be rushed back into the OR for two more hours of surgery. They slept on couches in the lounge outside of the PICU. And to Janne, Amy and Stefan for making sure Emily was taken care of during the ten days that Ana was hospitalized, and to Chloe and Layla – the cousins – who kept Emily company (thereby easing my worry over her well being a lot).
Want to help me honor this day? Register to be an organ donor. It truly saves lives.