Organ donation: One woman’s story

When writer Liz Maxwell was battling a severe autoimmune liver deficiency, a liver transplant changed her life. This glimpse into her story reminds us why it is so important to be aware of organ donation and its impact

Organ donation: One woman's story

Source: Best Health Magazine, September 2008

Here is an excerpt from Liz Maxwell’s book, Stories From Her Journey, which her friends published after her death. In the following passage, Liz was writing to her unknown organ donor.

Dear, Dear Friend:

Although I feel at peace, and the cycle of my life continues, I know it is intimately intertwined with yours’like venn diagrams intersecting. Yes, it has been 11 years since I was plunged into a coma caused by chronic liver disease, and you donated your liver and brought me back from imminent death. But you can never be far from my mind. Twice daily, I fill my body with chemicals meant to trick your liver into thinking it is still at home with you; this way it has become my liver. Frequently I feel a slight pain in my right side and I rub myself, massaging that part of you that has become me. I think of you then.

When the telephone rang 11 years ago around Christmas time and my transplant coordinator told me they had a ‘very good liver’ for me, did I cheer? Did I grab my husband in glee? Did I announce the news excitedly to the kids? No; I cried. I hung on to the phone and cried. That phone call brought only good news for me; only tragedy to your family.

We don’t talk much, anymore, about my transplant or the severe, life-threatening illness that precipitated it. But the times when I take a moment to sit and contemplate the past, I realize that this experience has had a profound impact on how I live my life. For me, life is slower now. I pause and reflect more; I insist less. My drive for perfection has all but disappeared. In its place is a quiet acceptance of the imperfections of others and myself. I laugh more; complaining and whining are still there but greatly muted. I have so little to complain about. Losing a tennis match is not a reason to pout; I have hit the ball and that is what I celebrate. You won’t find me reluctant to reveal my age, 55. Growing older, for me, is a celebration of thanks. I have few unresolved emotional issues; these things tend to get settled as you sit side-by-side with death.

Strangely, it has been an uplifting experience to be so close to death. It has allowed me to experience what so many others may miss: the huge outpouring of love and support that is shown when someone is dying or dead. When I awoke from coma after my sudden liver failure, my first words to my mother were, ‘I didn’t realize so many people love me.’ What an incredible privilege that was.

And so I hope you were able to experience all of this love in your last days. I’d like to surround you with more and have your picture on my desk taking its place among those closest to me’my parents who gave me life, my sons to whom I gave life and my husband who brings continued joy to my life. The simple check mark you made next to the word ‘yes’ on your organ donation form was an act of love and charity that has taught me the most important lesson I will learn about living and dying well.

With deep gratitude and love,

This article was originally titled "Friends Forever," in the September 2008 issue of Best Health. Subscribe today to get the full Best Health experience’and never miss an issue!’and make sure to check out what’s new in the latest issue of Best Health.