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Living organ donation has always been on Megan Thomas's radar. For most people, it is something they will likely never think about. For Meg and her family, organ donation and transplant have been a fact of life.
On September 16, 2019, Meg shared her remarkable story with hundreds of living donors, transplant recipients, their family and friends at the Living Organ Donor Recognition Event hosted by the Centre for Living Organ Donation at Toronto General Hospital.
"Most people would probably think I'm absolutely crazy to call Toronto General Hospital 'my home away from home,'" she joked in September. "But I grew up here – it's where my Mom had two liver transplants."
Meg's mother, Jan, has Polycystic Liver and Kidney Disease, a hereditary disease that kept her in Toronto General for large stretches of Meg's childhood and adolescence. Meg estimates she has met 100 doctors in her lifetime. "It comes with the territory when you have an extremely ill mother. But I can say without a doubt that I have never encountered staff like the transplant staff at Toronto General." After listening to a few of her stories, you can understand why.
When she was 17, her mother's hepatologist, Dr. Les Lilly, helped her with an OAC Science and Society project on Organ Transplants, braving early morning traffic to Newmarket to help her present (she received an A+). When Jan received news that they had found a liver for her second transplant, the staff cried with relief alongside her family and accompanied them down to the operating room at 6 am. "I know a lot of people don't have stories like ours about their doctors and nurses. They became our extended family."
In 2014, Megan got serious about becoming a living donor. She lost 40 pounds, and made exercise and healthy eating part of her daily life. It had always been her intention to donate a kidney to her mother, who after two liver transplants was in need of a kidney. But things don't always go according to plan.
In late 2016, the health of a close friend was failing. Her second living kidney transplant had been cancelled and things looked desperate. With Jan's encouragement, Meg got tested for their friend.
She was a match, and the transplant was a success. Filled with the deep satisfaction of having saved a friend's life, Meg began to write about her experience. "Through writing I started to feel as though my living donation journey wasn't complete yet. I couldn't find the perfect ending, and then I realized it was because my journey wasn't over."
On May 23, 2019, Megan donated a portion of her liver to one-year-old baby Nyla. Nyla was born with biliary atresia and had lived her entire life in Sick Kids Hospital before Meg's donation. Aniyah, Nyla’s mother, named Meg godmother to Nyla, and the three of them celebrated their six month "liver-versary" on November 23, 2019.
"It's been a really eventful six months – there's so much to celebrate. Nyla is eating solid foods, crawling, walking and talking, it's just incredible. And I've healed beautifully. My liver has fully regenerated and I have a foot-long scar fit for a warrior. I went back to work, I turned 40, bought a new car, and became Chair of the Board for Character Community of York Region, one of my favourite charities."
Meg is currently the Executive Director of Clarico Place York Region, a non-profit that assists individuals with identified disabilities, and was the winner of the Award of Merit from the Ontario Association of Youth Employment Centres, as well as the Outstanding Volunteer Award from Character Community. She is currently writing a book about her experience with living organ donation. Even with all that she has achieved, she does not intend to stop anytime soon.
"I know there's more to come, that there are going to be more ups and downs. Beginnings are scary and endings are often sad, but it's the middle that matters the most. I choose to search for the small things in every day life that put a smile on my face. I choose to be grateful. I choose to be brave, and to never wait for permission to start changing the world."