There are currently more than 120,000 people in the United States on the waiting list for an organ transplant. In addition to those already waiting, there is one person added to the list every ten minutes. On average, 22 people die daily from the low amount of available organs. Being an organ donor may seem scary to some people, almost as if they are signing up for something that will happen to their body and organs when they have passed, but there are also ways to be a donor while alive as well. While a deceased donor can save up to eight lives with their organs, live donors can donate a kidney or even parts of the lung, liver, intestines, blood or bone marrow.
When I was 12, my youngest sister was born. Awaiting her arrival was typical, there were arguments about what her name would be and, most importantly, who was going to have to share a bedroom. However, the night of July 21, 2010, was anything but typical. Jillian was born that evening at 8:50pm. By 2:15am, she was at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia fighting to stay alive. Because of her, our lives - my mom, my dad, my two younger sisters, and me - have forever changed.
After Jillian was diagnosed with a very rare form of cardiomyopathy, she was able to come home for a short period of time and we tried to be as normal of a family as possible. In early November of that year, Jillian fell ill and was taken to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). For the next three months, Jillian stayed at CHOP fighting for her life because double pneumonia and strep had left her heart unable to do its job. She was septic, and while we had always known there was no cure for Jillian, as her only option would eventually be a heart transplant, none of us realized it would be needed so soon.
My parents were always honest with my sisters and I, and never kept anything Jillian was experiencing a secret. They did their best to keep our family "normal". We went to school, they went to work, none of us missed Irish dance class or soccer, and Jillian was never alone at the hospital. We are blessed to have family that lives close; grandparents, aunts, and uncles helped a lot. My younger sisters, 5 and 9 at the time, needed support because it was hard for them to understand Jillian’s illness. As I ventured out to take on more responsibility, I never realized that what was happening would forever change me.
I'll skip the sad details about Thanksgiving and Christmas without our baby sister and the torture I saw in my parents’ eyes when they had to leave her at night, and fast forward to January 25, 2011; transplant day. We had been waiting so long for this day to come. My parents got the call early in the morning, and the day progressed like any other. At 4am on January 25th, Jillian was taken to the OR, and by 8:15am she was in recovery with a new heart beating in her chest. It was nothing short of a miracle, but so is Jillian. She was discharged exactly two weeks later on February 8, 2011.
Life still has challenges. As many know, transplants aren't a cure, they’re a band-aid, but we live in a world of unknowns. For these reasons and more, the experience has changed me immensely. I thought my actions were helping alleviate my parents of worry, but it turns out I was the one that gained something invaluable. I developed a bond with my sisters that I may not have ever had otherwise, it gave me a passion for life, and it made me aware others need help too.I learned at a young age that life is not a guarantee: it can disappear without warning or fault. I have learned every life is precious and beautiful. I have learned that despite the way Jillian’s life started, she is still just one of my sisters. I have learned the little things don't bother me as much anymore. I have learned there is no bond like that of sisters, no matter what the distance in age is. Most importantly, I have learned it is okay to not know what tomorrow brings as long as you are ready to attack what comes next with passion. I have developed a sense of maturity that many my age have not; not by choice necessarily, but by what life gave me. When I was younger, I'll be honest, I had no idea what being an organ donor entailed nor did I have any desire to become one. It wasn't until my six-year-old sister was born that I became more aware of how life changing organ donation is. Through the power of organ donation, my sister was able to live her life without the constant worry about her sick heart. While there are still some precautions we have to take to make sure Jillian is okay, there will never be something our family is more thankful for than our donor family. Become an organ donor today!