Twenty-four years ago today I woke up in a hospital bed at the Hospital for Sick Children no longer intact. During the wee hours of that Valentines Day morning back in 1988, I received a new, healthy liver in exchange for my old, diseased one. In some ways I went into that surgery as one person and came out as two.
My life changed dramatically. No more bouts of vomiting copious amounts of bright red blood. No grossly enlarged liver throwing off my balance. No more kangaroo pump feedings at night or battles to send that hated tube slithering up my nose and down the back of my throat to my stomach. No shadow of death hanging over me and haunting my family on a daily basis.
I finally started elementary school. I lived to see my sixth birthday. And I have since celebrated twenty-four Valentines Days surrounded by the love and joy of my family.
Unfortunately, my transplant and life were only possible because death visited another family. A family who did not have a sick child and was not expecting death to come for them.
As a result I hold within me great joy and great sorrow. I have had twenty-four years to wonder why I got to live and my donor did not when I was sick and he was healthy until an accident occurred. I still do not have a satisfactory answer because I do not think there is one.
Words are not enough to describe the thankfulness I feel toward my donor and his family for their gift of life and love. I try and try to explain it, how much my new liver has changed my life, to write some semblance of a thank-you letter to my donor family, but I always come up frustrated by a lack of skill and a profound sense of survivor guilt.
Still, I believe that though my donor is dead, a part of him lives in me. (Literally and metaphorically.) I am living my life for me, but also for him because he gave me what he did not have: the chance to grow up. In some ways I feel like a piece of amber preserving a mosquito although I know I am preserving something far more precious.
It is Valentines Day, and usually this day is about professing romantic love through the use of symbolic hearts. For me though, the greatest symbol of love will always be the liver.