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For Immediate Release
January 19, 2015
LONDON, Ontario – As a lifelong runner, when Ray Jonasson competed in 5k races, he was accustomed to winning. Nationally ranked, he was energized with each run, always aiming for a top three finish. So when Jonasson found himself exhausted part way through a race in 1996, he was puzzled. When he collapsed at the finish line, he was concerned. And as he sat in his doctor’s office, hearing his diagnosis of primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC), he couldn’t help but be scared.
PSC is a disease of the bile ducts that cause inflammation and subsequent obstruction of the ducts. It is progressive, and can lead to tumours of bile duct or liver and liver failure. The obstructions decrease the amount of energy the liver can provide. The only cure for the disease is a liver transplant.
“Being told you have an illness that will only get worse, and not get better, throws you for a loop. I have always been very competitive, and knew I needed to use all that competitive energy to beat this,” said Jonasson, a patient at the London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC). A complete lifestyle change followed; he quit running and closed his business. His goal became to see his daughter, Elizabeth, who was then in primary school, graduate from university.
The deterioration for Jonasson was slow, but impacted all aspects of life nonetheless. In 2008, his mission took on greater urgency when a severe liver infection became the turning point that saw Jonasson added to the transplant list. From there, the struggle became deadly serious. His family watched helplessly as Jonasson's health deteriorated.
“At that point, my goal was two years. I only needed to live for two more years,” said Jonasson. Two more years would mean watching his daughter walk across the stage to receive her university diploma. “I needed someone to say ‘yes’ to being an organ donor so that I could see her graduate and know that she would be alright.”
For Jonasson’s transplant surgeon, Dr. Roberto Hernandez-Alejandro of LHSC’s Multi-Organ Transplant Program, someone ‘saying yes’ to giving the gift of life is something he hopes for his patients daily. “It is difficult to see patients who have been so active and so well their entire lives be faced with the devastating effects of end-stage liver disease. Their only hope to return to a normal life is a liver transplant and waiting for this is more difficult than anyone can imagine. In fact, one in five patients on the list will die before getting their new chance at life. Mr. Jonasson was one of the fortunate ones, and this was only possible because someone out there said ‘yes’ to organ donation.”
The call came in July of 2011 – there was a liver available and it was on its way to London for Jonasson. It was just in the nick of time, as his health had been deteriorating rapidly in the weeks before.
“I know I was very fortunate that an organ came along when it did. I knew how sick I was. But somebody said ‘yes’, and because of that, I am here and I am committed to using my gift of life to help others understand the importance of organ donation,” said Jonasson. And most importantly for Jonasson, when Elizabeth came off the stage with her degree in May, 2013, he was there to hug her.
“Mr. Jonasson is one of the most passionate advocates for organ donation awareness that I’ve met,” said Dr. Hernandez-Alejandro. “It has been very rewarding to see all that he has accomplished post-transplant, and I know that he will continue to do all that he can to ensure every patient waiting for an organ in this country receives the same opportunity.”
Having had a few non-transplant related health challenges during the past few months, Jonasson will soon be taking a break to recover at his daughter's home in California before travelling with her on a vacation to South America. "For too many years, I had to stay near the hospital or lose my place on the transplant list,"Jonasson explains. "Now it is time to truly enjoy every extra day that I have been given and what better way than with the person who was my reason for hanging on during those challenging times as I waited for my gift of life?"
About London Health Sciences Centre
London Health Sciences Centre has been at the forefront of medicine in Canada for 139 years and offers the broadest range of specialized clinical services in Ontario. Building on the traditions of its founding hospitals to provide compassionate care in an academic teaching setting, London Health Sciences Centre is home to Children’s Hospital, University Hospital, Victoria Hospital, the Kidney Care Centre, two family medical centres, and two research institutes – Children’s Health Research Institute and Lawson Health Research Institute. As a leader in medical discovery and health research, London Health Sciences Centre has a history of over 65 international and national firsts and attracts top clinicians and researchers from around the world. As a regional referral centre, London Health Sciences Centre cares for the most medically complex patients including critically injured adults and children in southwestern Ontario and beyond. The hospital’s nearly 15,000 staff, physicians, students and volunteers provide care for more than one million patient visits a year. For more information visit www.lhsc.on.ca
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