Kathleen Hogg cried for a year after she received a liver from a deceased organ donor in 1986.
"I still think about that person who died, and was so generous in giving me an organ so I could live," says Kathleen, now 70, who speaks softly with emotion as she recounts the impact organ donation has had in her life.
"It's something you never forget."
As a result of that organ donation, she was able to go back to work, go for walks with her husband, see the trees change with the seasons, and see all four of her grandchildren grow up.
Kathleen is shy when speaking about her family and how much she has done for them.
But her daughter, Tracey, 47, is not. She was just 16 when her mother became ill and was admitted to the local hospital and treated. But just days after her release from the hospital, Kathleen's sister dropped by and found Kathleen in her home, lying on the bathroom floor, in her own vomit.
After being rushed back to the local hospital, she was then taken to Toronto General Hospital (TGH), and was told she would need a new liver to live.
"My heart went into my throat," recalls Tracey. "I was terrified. We did not think my mom would survive the surgery."
National Organ and Tissue Donation Awareness Week
April 23 – April 29, 2017
Not only did her mother survive the transplant, but she was cared for with compassion and tenderness. One nurse came back after her shift to sit with the family during the procedure, and another nurse always had a big, bright smile for the scared, young daughter, while others would try and coax a laugh or a short walk around the unit from Kathleen as she recovered.
For Tracey and her family, that gift of life to Kathleen meant that her children, husband and niece, Melissa, experienced one of the most loved and fun aunts and grandmothers. Someone who would plunk herself on the floor to play and read books with the kids, sing pop songs out loud, swap jokes, and who would always pick them up after school if it rained or snowed.
"We're very thankful to the donor and family who gave us this time with my mom," Tracey says. "None of us would be the people we are today without my mom."
She's 'taken such good care of her liver'
Tracey and Kathleen both talk about the importance of the day when Kathleen received her gift of life. It's an anniversary to be celebrated every year with a Black Forest cake, giving thanks to the donor and the donor's family, complemented by best wishes from family and friends.
At 30 years, Kathleen is believed to be the recipient with the longest-surviving donor liver at TGH.
"My mom appreciates what the donor did for her, and for us. And my mother has taken such good care of her liver. It's been going strong for 30 years – despite all the other surgeries and health issues she has had," says Tracey, with awe.
Kathleen still comes in for medical visits to TGH: "They're quite excited when I come in for my check-up. They can see how well I've done with my liver. It's a source of pride for them, and for me!"
In 2016, TGH performed 200 adult liver transplants in one year – a major milestone for our Multi-Organ Transplant Program. The liver transplant program at TGH is one of the largest in North America, and a leader in innovation, research and teaching.
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1 organ donor can save 8 lives