Cayse took yesterday off to rest and recharge in Regina, so I thought I would try my (Stephen Antolin) hand telling a story on the blog.
Today, I was overwhelmed by a complex mixture of emotions as I returned to Toronto General Hospital for the first time in months. Walking those hallways– the ones that had grown so familiar to me and my family over the months as Matthew battled for his health while he waited on a heart– it was impossible not to be reminded of all that we had and all that we lost in Matthew. It was impossible not to feel overcome be feelings of immense grief and sadness.
The hospital hallways will always echo with heartache for me, forever standing as reminders of a scars that will always be far too fresh in my mind and in my heart. And yet, in many ways the hospital also stands as a monument to the triumphs of human ingenuity and spirit. A testament to all things possible.
I was fortunate enough today to bare witness to and celebrate some of these possibilities in meeting Aaron O’Niell and Dave Allingham.
Aaron is 18 years old and 7 feet tall. There is barely a bed in the hospital big enough to contain his oversized frame and barely a nurse energetic enough to entertain his oversized personality. He is outgoing, amiable and quick to smile.
All this in spite of the viral infection that wrought so much damage to his heart by the time that it was detected that he has spent the past couple months hooked up to a BI-VAD machine (a left & right ventricular assist device) in the Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit at Toronto General Hospital. This machine is fully responsible for pumping Aaron’s blood. Were he not hooked up to it, there is no doubt, he would not be alive today.
It is a lot to have to deal with at any age, never mind when you are just 18.
And so, Aaron feels many things: he is bored by trying to pass the time in the hospital each day; saddened by all that he is missing out on back home; frustrated by his physical limitations and his prolonged stay; nervous about the challenges and uncertainty that lays ahead; grateful for the care and support that he is receiving; and hopeful for the heart that can’t come quick enough.
Dave Allingham is the future Aaron and his family wish for.
Now 41 years old, Dave recently celebrated the one year anniversary of receiving his new heart. Did it in style too, by biking 50 KM in the Heart & Stroke Foundation’s Ride for Heart! Like Aaron, Dave spent months in the hospital preparing for his heart transplant.
In that time, Dave felt everything from hope to despair as he waited anxiously for a heart, uncertain about when, or even if, it would ever arrive. Fortunately it did, and he remains eternally grateful to the family who provided him a new lease on life in the midst of their own incredible tragedy.
Dave has spent everyday since his transplant, fulfilling on a promise that he made to himself in his hospital bed- to do all that he could to promote the cause of organ and tissue donation. He knows all too well the impact that such decisions can have on the lives of others.
In one way or another Aaron, Dave and myself have all lived the joys and challenges of being dependent on an organ transplant or having a loved one in that situation. Though we are at different points of this difficult journey our message is simple- take the time to educate yourself and others about the cause of organ and tissue donation, make the effort to register and then spread the word to family, friends and strangers. You never know the impact that you might have.
There is no greater legacy that you can leave behind then passing on the gift of life in death.