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A reason to celebrate!
A freezing wind was blowing down Toronto’s Bay Street. Chilling my cheeks and numbing my ears. But I was warm. Maybe not on the outside but certainly on the inside! I had just had lunch with Heather Fisher, Canada’s second longest living liver transplant celebrator. Twenty years!
If you are willing to accept, why aren’t you willing to give? An unasked and an unanswered question. If you or your loved ones would be willing to accept an organ transplant, why wouldn’t you be willing to give the same. Each year, this week, today, tomorrow somebody, your potential friend or perhaps a solver of one the world’s problems will die because there was no liver, or no lung, or no kidney or not the heart to give them a second life.
Jaundice entered Heather’s life at age 14. It yellowed her eyes and tinted her skin. It frightened her. Autoimmune chronic hepatitis. Never seen by the average physician in their entire practicing lifetime. Medications subdued it. They didn’t cure it. Fifteen years later hepatic encephalopathy and gastrointestinal bleeding came to claim her life.
April 23, 1983. Heather, now an operating room nurse, is lying anesthetized on an operating room table at University Hospital in London, Ontario. Her abdomen has been opened with a huge Y shaped incision, like a giant Mercedes Benz logo. It was a cold and stormy night. Three of the previous four liver transplant patients have died. Scant hours ago, Bill Wall, her transplant surgeon had almost dropped her new liver into the chilly water of the Toronto Harbor. 16 hours later she woke in the ICU. “One of the first things I heard my parents say was, ‘Look at her eyes, look at her eyes!’ With the liver disease I had had yellow eyes since the age of 14”. She remembers her eyes were white. They still are, and brilliantly so!
When the jaundice and confusion had cleared and the giant incision had healed Heather got on with proving that the family of the young man, who had died on that motorcycle that dark and stormy night, had made the right decision. She was told that the young man who had died to give her a second life had a tattoo: Born to Raise Hell. Heather set out to prove him right.
No mountain was too high. No race too long. No task too hard.
Six years later two hearts and a liver (Heather) were trekking up Mt. Kilimanjaro. (Amongst themselves transplant recipients often refer to themselves by their new life-giving organ). Only a third of those that start that trek up Kilimanjaro ever make it to the top. And at the top is a book in a box beneath a rock. You have to dust if off. And now in that book is Heather Fisher – Liver transplant recipient.
“I’ve met death and I’ve got past it. I no longer fear it. I’ve had bonus years. I do more in a year than many people do in a lifetime. I’m not religious but if God, he or she or whatever you want to call him or her or whatever wanted me to live, then there must be a purpose”. And for Heather that purpose is to promote organ transplant awareness. People don’t just die or fade away after they have their transplant. They live. They celebrate their lives and the lost life of the person and the family who gave them their second life. And in July of 2005 thousands of livers and lungs, kidneys and hearts met Heather in London, Ontario for the World Transplant Games and to celebrate those lives.
Heather has been competing in and helping to organize the Transplant Games for many years. She no longer wears skimpy running tops or bikinis but is not ashamed of her scars. As her niece said, “Aunty Heather you have all kinds of belly buttons”. A belly button is a sign of birth and rebirth!
Heather was and still is a traveller. Now the Children’s Rainbow of Miracles is one of her ways of travelling and of giving back. Teams of doctors and nurses go to places like Ecuador and Honduras to straighten twisted limbs, correct crooked smiles, make sad faces smile again. “It’s the joy of my life! What tops (almost) the transplant is going to third world countries and operating on children who have less than nothing."