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1 donor can save 8 lives: How registering to be an organ donor creates a ripple effect of healing

Create a long-lasting legacy by registering to become an organ donor in B.C.
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Natalie Williams received her life-changing liver transplant on April 19, 2017.

Did you know that 90% of British Columbians believe in and support organ donation, but only 32% are registered? 

While it may not be something we want to think about, it is often the most important things that require us to step outside our comfort zone, reflect and prioritize what matters. 

April is Organ Donation Awareness Month, and BC Transplant is encouraging residents across the province to look into their hearts – and livers, lungs, kidneys and pancreases – and dedicate the short two minutes it takes to register as a donor.

All you need is your Personal Health Number and a WiFi connection. 

The impact is substantial and, in many cases, lifesaving, as it was for liver recipient Natalie Williams.

A liver called ‘Larry’ 

Shortly after birth, Williams was diagnosed with a pediatric liver disease called biliary atresia. This congenital condition occurs when the bile ducts (tubes) inside or outside the liver don’t develop properly, resulting in blockages in the ducts that carry bile from the liver to the gallbladder. 

Following the diagnosis, she underwent her first operation known as the ‘Kasai Procedure,’ which linked her intestine to her liver. However, this was only a temporary fix meant to buy some time until an inevitable transplant.

“Over the years, as my liver deteriorated and complications arose, life becameprogressively difficult, with much of my childhood being spent in and out of BC Children’s Hospital,” Williams explains. “Despite best efforts, I went into liver failure and was placed on the waiting list for a transplant in 2016.”

Luckily, Williams’s time on the waitlist was shorter than most, but it still pushed both her mental and physical limits. 

“​​I felt increasingly helpless and afraid that my life would end as I knew time was running out.”

After six months, Williams and her family got the call that her new liver – affectionately deemed ‘Larry’ – was available, and she received her transplant on April 19, 2017, noting she felt the difference almost instantly. 

“It was as if the act of breathing alone was easier,” she says. “I felt alive and so healthy. Larry and I continued to recover and have done remarkably well ever since.” 

From heartbreak to healing 

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One donor can give eight people a second chance at life. Photo via: BC Transplant.

Williams was insurmountably grateful for her second chance. However, she struggled with not even knowing the name of the person who saved her life.

“This person had given me something so profound, so their death and how they had lived their life became so important and yet I didn’t know anything about them,” she describes. “In a sense, I had nowhere to place my grief or gratitude.”

Finally, in 2020, with the help of BC Transplant, Williams was able to meet the family of her donor, with whom she now shares an incredible friendship. While it has been difficult to see their grief, she appreciates the privilege of forming this connection.

“I’ve learned about the young man who saved my life,” she says. “This not only allowed me to grieve for him properly but to learn all about the ways in which he lived life to the absolute fullest.”

Williams claims she will likely never find suitable enough words to express her gratitude, but she hopes that through their continued friendship over the years, it’s apparent just how much of an impact their loved one’s sacrifice has made on her life beyond simply extending it. 

“Over the past four years I have come to love them – not just for the gift in which they’ve given – but for who they are as people,” she says. “I, of course, also love the beautiful soul who is my donor. Because of the gift my hero and his family gave, I feel as though I am going to live a long life now.”

One legacy can extend others’ lives

While Williams is just one example of many stories, organ donation is rare, and only 1-2% of people die in a way for them to even be considered for donation. However, one donor can give eight people a second chance at life.

Thanks to the generous acts of selfless souls like her donor, people like Willams can plan for the future. 

“I think that’s not only a tremendous gift to give, but an incredible legacy to leave behind,” she says. 

“I aim to live in a way where when I face death again – in many decades’ time – I can truly say I lived to the absolute best of my ability. That I loved and gave to others unconditionally; lived with profound intention; experienced as much as possible; made the world a better place; and honoured my hero through it all.” 

To register to become an organ donor, visit registeryourdecision.ca