How this BC organ transplant recipient got a second chance at life

Apr 3 2023, 9:00 pm

April is Organ Donation Awareness Month, a month dedicated to raising awareness and educating people about the urgent need for organ donors — with April 7 specifically marking Green Shirt Day.

Inspired by the legacy of Logan Boulet, a young man who lost his life in the Humboldt tragedy of April 2018, who was able to save six lives after his death, Green Shirt Day commemorates Boulet’s gift, which sparked a surge in public awareness — showing people the huge effect registering as an organ donor can have.

Right now, there are hundreds of people in BC waiting for an organ transplant, and while a massive 90% of Canadians agree with organ donation, only 32% have registered their decision. By taking two minutes to register as an organ donor, you could literally save lives.

This is something that heart transplant recipient Naomi Lee wants you to know.

Receiving her diagnosis

BC Transplant

Naomi Lee and sisters (BC Transplant/Naomi Lee)

In 2020, Lee, a healthy 19-year-old, got the flu. But, instead of recovering as normal, she continued to get sicker and sicker.

“I was having shortness of breath and chest pain, my mom took me to the emergency department at my local hospital,” Lee tells Daily Hive. “They diagnosed me with viral myocarditis, which is inflammation of the heart due to a virus.”

Lee explains how she was admitted right away. The next day, her heart “just kicked out; it stopped working,” and she went into heart failure.

Living with heart failure

Naomi’s post-transplant medication (BC Transplant/Naomi Lee)

After her initial heart failure, she was given a mechanical heart pump called an LVAD (Left Ventricular Assist Device), which helped her regain enough strength to return home after her hospital stay.

But soon after, it was determined that she would need a heart transplant, and she was put on a waiting list for a new heart.

“It was so crazy to think that three weeks prior, my heart was completely healthy, and after a virus, I just went from being totally ‘normal’ to having heart failure,” she says.

Getting the call

Naomi and her siblings (BC Transplant/Naomi Lee)

While she waited for the life-changing call, Lee admits that she sometimes struggled with needing a new heart, as it meant someone else was losing theirs.

I had to focus on how someone wasn’t passing away [just] to give me their heart. That selfless person and their family chose to donate their organs to give these generous gifts after death. They completely change other people’s lives.”

Following her transplant procedure, Lee gradually regained her strength and was able to slowly return to the active lifestyle she had prior to becoming ill.

Life after her heart transplant

Naomi and her doggo, Theo (BC Transplant/Naomi Lee)

Nowadays, she is not only intensely grateful to her donor and donor family but also feels a new lease on life, appreciating the simple things, such as being able to take a walk without experiencing chest pain.

“Generally, I just have the posture of thankfulness, and my mindset is very glass half full. I have a lot less anxiety. I think my anxiety used to stem from what people thought of me … but now I know that there are a lot more important things in life.”

For Lee, Organ Donation Awareness Month is the perfect opportunity for people to learn more about organ donation, register as organ donors, and potentially make a huge difference in the world.

Because of her new heart, Lee can now wake up every morning and celebrate being alive. “I’m so thankful to be alive, it’s just incredible how the impact of a single person can completely change lives.”

For more information on how you can register as an organ donor, click here.

Daily Hive

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