Beginning a New Holiday Tradition to Honor My Lung Donor
How columnist Sam Kirton is remembering his donor and a lifesaving gift
How is it December already? In the retail world, the holiday season seems to begin earlier every year. It felt like ads for Thanksgiving and Christmas started airing around Labor Day this year here in the United States.
Last year, I noticed my thoughts turned to my donor family more often during the holiday season. The simplest heartwarming advertisement could make me emotional.
The road to transplant
When I was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) in January 2017, I had much to learn about this disease. Apart from patients with familial pulmonary fibrosis, most have never heard of PF. After my diagnosis, I immersed myself in learning. After all, how could I be an engaged member of my care team without some understanding of the disease?
The more I learned about IPF, the more I realized that if I was a good candidate for transplant, I wanted to pursue that option. Transplant is often explained as trading one condition for another. Caring for your donor’s gift is a lifelong commitment involving a medical regimen that can seem daunting.
Transplant is a very personal decision, and it’s not an option for every patient. Some may elect not to pursue it, while others might not meet the criteria due to comorbidities, lack of a support system, age, or other issues.
For me, a transplant was the right choice.
My days are different now
On the morning of July 9, 2021, my whole world changed with a single phone call. After nearly four months of being listed for transplant, I’d been matched with a set of lungs. While further tests were required to ensure the donor’s lungs were right for me, I was admitted to Inova Fairfax Hospital in Falls Church, Virginia, in preparation.
On July 10, I received a bilateral lung transplant. My donor and I were paired for life.
I begin every morning with a prayer for my donor and their family. Not a single day goes by when I don’t recognize the gift of my donor’s lungs. During the holidays, thoughts of my donor are especially poignant.
Oh, so thankful
On Thanksgiving 2021, I was four months post-transplant, and my stepfather had just passed away. There was a lot going on as my donor’s lungs and I learned to work together.
This year, my family is starting a new tradition at our holiday meals. Some will say a blessing, grace, or a prayer before a meal, while others simply dive right in. In our home, we tend to be more formal, asking someone at the table to pray before we eat. If my donor isn’t mentioned, I offer a prayer for them and their family.
While I’ve written to my donor family through an advocate at the Washington Regional Transplant Community, I don’t know who my donor is. What I do know is that their selfless act granted me a new shot at life.
A seat at the table
My donor is a part of me. The first letter I wrote to my donor family began: “It is only because of your generous gift of life that I am.” Beginning this year in our home, my donor will have a seat at the table. We will set a place to honor their memory and the gift of life they bestowed upon me.
Perhaps I’ll know more about my lung donor one day and can add their name to a place card. For now, the card will simply serve as a reminder of the gift they’ve given me. They’ll be honored for allowing me to make every breath count.
Note: Pulmonary Fibrosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Fibrosis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary fibrosis.