The Gift of Life

| by Marcia Anderson |

On August 26, 2014, my daughter made the decision to have her name added to a waiting list for new lungs. She’d been living with an unknown lung disease since she was eleven years old. After undergoing aggressive steroid treatments for twenty-eight years, organ transplant was her only hope to live a longer life. For the 201 days leading up to surgery, I linked colorful prayer rings to mark the length of time she waited. I told myself that she might hang it on her Christmas tree each year to remind her of the gift of life.

Every day, I would think of a different prayer, such as asking God to be sure to pick just the right lungs. Other times, I would ask Him to guide the doctor’s hands through surgery and make sure they are well rested. I would also pray for the donor and his or her family. I realized that some other mother was going to be grieving the loss of her son or daughter. But, always praying that my “little” girl would have the chance to live.

Brook and Marcia

On March 14, 2015, my phone rang at 2:00 a.m., “Mom, I got my call for lungs.” Not quite awake, I asked my thirty-nine year old daughter if she was okay. I could detect anxiety in her voice, but I knew my strong daughter was ready. A half hour later, she called back to say there was a delay and a possibility that the surgery would not even happen today. “Just go back to sleep,” she said, “I’ll call you if I hear anything.” GO BACK TO SLEEP?! Can a mother go back to sleep after getting a call like that? This was the day that I’d been praying for, right? Now all I could do was lay there and let my very mixed emotions run wild.

Unable to sleep, I prayed until I finally dosed off. At 7:00 a.m., my phone started ringing again. This time, my daughter said, “It’s a go!”

We met her at the hospital and things started moving fast. After months spent waiting for this day, I suddenly found myself wanting time to stop. I wanted to say so many things to my daughter. Tell her how much I loved her, how proud of her I was, again and again and again, I LOVE YOU. What do you say when there’s a possibility this is the last time you will see your child alive? Everything a mother prays she would never have to think about or ever say to her child. But, the hands kept moving forward on the big wall clock in her room.

At 10:30 a.m. they tell us it’s time. Time to put everything that I’d been praying for in His hands now.

About an hour and a half into the surgery, we received a phone call letting us know that everything was okay. We were also told that the lungs hadn’t arrived yet. This came as very shocking news because we’d all envisioned the lungs being in the operating room the moment the surgery started. For the next several hours, her brothers, father, step-dad, sister in law and I tried to keep our minds occupied with conversation. Anything that would distract us from the operation.

We received updates every few hours letting us know what stage of surgery was taking place. We were notified when the first lung was successfully transplanted. And we nervously waited for confirmation that the second lung was successfully placed. The first word that comes to mind when describing the wait is stressful. But, we also had a tremendous feeling of hope. We tried to focus on that and pretend there were no gray clouds looming over us.

Finally, we received word that the surgery was over. We felt tremendous relief and conviction that we’d just experienced a miracle. The first place they took her was the intensive care unit. They told us that two people were allowed to spend the night and, of course, I volunteered to take that shift! Her step-dad and I spent the next several hours just watching her chest rise and fall. Even with all the tubes connected to her, I was not afraid. I knew that she would pull through because of her strength and resilience.

I had no idea what to expect after the surgery. No idea how long it would take for her to wake up or when she’d start breathing on her own. At this point, time really started to fly. Within 24 hours after the operation, her breathing vents came out and she was sitting up on the side of her bed! I couldn’t believe that things were going so well, I was amazed!

As her mother, it was extremely hard for me to watch as the medical team tried to get Brook’s medication regulated. The strong painkillers left her in a state of delirium with no control over the things she said or did. At one point, she was convinced that her head had been shaved. The doctors had placed her hair in a wrap to keep it from being tangled in the tubes covering her body. I quickly realized that she needed to feel her hair in order to calm down. So, I dug under the head wrap and gently placed her hand on the evidence. Although this was a difficult time, I realized that she needed the drugs to recover and I was grateful that they reduced her pain.

Thankfully, it wasn’t long before Brook was prescribed the right mix and dosage of pain medication. She was moved from the Intensive Care Unit to the 7th Floor where she quickly began to turn the corner. I was finally able to breathe a sigh of relief knowing that she would be okay!

Brook Hospital

I may never meet the family of Brook’s donor, but if I did, I’d want them to know how sorry I was for their loss and how grateful I am that Brook has a second chance at life. I hope there is some comfort in knowing that their loved one has made it possible for my daughter to breathe. I’m sharing this story because I hope that everyone reading it will consider becoming an organ donor. There is nothing more precious than the gift of life. Your decision to donate means that another person, like my daughter, will someday get the phone call that her miracle is about to happen.

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