Living Organ Donation: An Honest Perspective

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By: Alexandra Grand

On January 15th, 2014, at the Toronto General Hospital (TGH), I donated 60% of my liver to my father. Never did I imagine that at 25, I would undergo rigorous evaluation to become his living donor.

The need for organ transplantation is increasing at a steady rate. Currently, 1 500 Ontarians are on organ waiting lists. These people wait in hopes of receiving a deceased donor. I could not let my dad take those chances. After hearing the devastating news of his diagnosis, I didn’t hesitate; I filled out the consent form and volunteered to give my dad my liver. For me, it was an easy decision.

My father, who has given me the world, had been diagnosed with hepatocellular carcinoma, which is a fancy way of saying liver cancer. Only through the multiple CT scans and MRIs did we come to learn that he had nine tumours spread across the left and right lobe of his liver, the largest measuring six centimetres. I knew we had to act quickly. Luckily, the option for transplant was still available. The cancer was still localized in his liver, meaning the surgeon could still take out his liver entirely and put in a new one.

Living-donor transplantation has become more common over the past 20 years. A living donor puts their life at risk by giving up an organ to help save the life of another. The risk in my case was minimal, as within two to three months of surgery the liver completely regenerates.

After I had submitted my request to donate to my father, I was contacted almost immediately to start the evaluation process. This included an MRI, CT scans, chest x-rays, routine blood work, and psychiatric assessments. TGH does not take this process lightly. I was given a living donor manual that outlined the risks involved, what I would experience pre and post surgery, my stay at the hospital, and I was even drawn a picture to show what my incision would ultimately look like. From day one, I was treated with bedside manner and professionalism.  The establishment of the donor’s safety was made so evident, and the reimbursement programs such as Trillium Gift of life made donating an even easier decision. I knew I was in good hands from day one.

In truth, it’s very difficult to articulate the days leading up to the surgery, and my days in the Intensive Care Unit. Being able to pay it forward and give my dad the gift of life has been one of the most humbling and enlightening experiences. Recovery is an on-going process. Losing an organ is exhausting, and having to re-grow one is as well. All the energy you have goes in to the regeneration.

Most people don’t have the awareness of living organ donation, and how you can save a life. In my case, I saved two: my dad’s, and the person who will receive the transplant from a deceased person that would have gone to my dad.

I’m only 25 years old. I’m not married, I don’t have kids, and I haven’t experienced all the things in life I want him around for. Now, I can say that my dad is 100% cancer free, and has a second chance at life. For me, it was a tiny loss for a huge gain.