Charlene Freeman
Charlene Freeman, 45, a mother and grandmother, donated a portion of her liver to a stranger in 2012. She is now being tested as an anonymous living kidney donor. (Photo: UHN)

 

A grandmother was so moved by her first anonymous organ donation, she has decided to donate a second organ to a stranger.

Charlene Freeman, 45, a mother of four children aged 16 to 25, and grandmother of a three-month girl, is being tested as an anonymous living kidney donor. In 2012, she gave a portion of her liver to a stranger.

What would propel someone to donate an organ to someone they don't know?

Charlene remembers a beloved, ill family member suffering from liver disease. After waiting for three years for an organ to become available for him, he received one from a deceased donor "in the nick of time," almost too ill to withstand the transplant.

"We watched him slip farther and farther away," she recalls. "Morally, I had a hard time waiting, and not doing anything.

"Our family could have been tested, but we were not aware that living donation was a possibility. I now know better and believe strongly that I have a moral obligation to pay it forward."

For Charlene, the transformative moment came when she realized that someone had thought about donating an organ before his or her death, had made sure that their last wishes were honoured, and that this gift saved a life.

She decided to find out if she could do something, and learned about the living donor program at Toronto General Hospital (TG). Liver and kidney donor programs in the Multi-Organ Transplant Program at TG are among the most respected in the world, with outcomes that are equal or exceed international standards.

She researched and thought about the options for a full year, and, after talking it over with her family, decided to get tested as a living liver donor. That took another year, with extensive physical and psycho-social tests completed at TG.

 
Charlene Freeman speaks about her experience as an anonymous li​ving donor. (Video: UHN)​

 

"For me, it was the right time to do this," Charlene says. "I investigated all the options, and found out what was required. After all, I do have four children, so I wanted to be safe. I would not have done anything to jeopardize my life.

"But at the same time, I wanted to know what I could do now to help someone who needed an organ."

After receiving the go-ahead from the transplant team, Charlene donated about 60 per cent of her liver to a stranger, with the liver regenerating itself within eight weeks. She was in hospital seven days, returning to work in five weeks.

"You don't need to be deceased to help others receive an organ – most people are still not aware that living donation is an option," she says. "We can help others we don't know, as much as a loved one.

"They are just as worthy. Donating a part of my liver taught me that."

Charlene has now decided that she wants to donate her kidney anonymously, and is undergoing stringent testing to become a living kidney donor at TG.

"I always knew I would volunteer for an anonymous kidney donation as well," she says. "It was just a matter of timing.

"This is the right time for me."

As part of this year’s National Organ and Tissue Donation Awareness Week, April 22 to 29, UHN joins Trillium Gift of Life Network in celebrating and continuing to build a culture of donation in Ontario:

  • Deceased organ donors in Ontario have nearly doubled in the past 10 years, and this has helped UHN become the largest adult transplant program in North America.
  • Over the past five years, the number of deceased organ donors at UHN has grown by 300 per cent. In 2016/17, 16 donors gave the gift of life, with 87 tissue donors enhancing many lives.
  • UHN is a leader in establishing living liver and kidney donation as a safe, viable option, with excellent results for both living donors and recipients.
  • Register to be a deceased organ donor at www.BeADonor.ca. Learn about living donation at www.uhn.ca.

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