Elmira woman knows the importance of being a donor
Having received a liver transplant that saved her life, Sarah Norcott is now an advocate for the cause; with April being Be A Donor month, she encourages everyone to sign on to the program
ELMIRA’S SARAH NORCOTT KNOWS firsthand how important it is to register to be an organ donor.
The 19-year-old underwent a life-saving liver transplant on Remembrance Day last year. This month is Be A Donor month and she’s encouraging everyone to consider registering to become an organ donor.
“It was kind of nervewracking but really exciting at the same time,” Sarah said of the experience.
“I got to start my life again, which was really nice.”
On average 1,500 people in Ontario are waiting for an organ transplant every day.
Judy Wells, Trillium Gift of Life Network coordinator, explains donor cards are obsolete now. This year’s Be A Donor month theme is “Check Your Status.”
“We constantly hear ‘I’m registered, I signed my organ donor card years ago.’ Well you might have signed your donor card years ago, but that doesn’t mean you’re actually registered,” Wells said.
The only way to try to ensure your wishes at the end of your life are respected is to register on the BeADonor.ca website or in person at Service Ontario.
“It will change someone’s life, give them an extra chance to live,” Sarah said.
Sarah was diagnosed when she was 15. Her family went on a trip down south and when they got back she had developed jaundice.
They discovered she had a genetic syndrome called alagille syndrome. Her liver continued to become more sick.
Last May her Model for End-Stage Liver Disease (MELD) score was 15, which was high enough to put her on the transplant list. Gail Norcott, Sarah’s mom, says she still felt reasonably well and was going to school and working part-time.
They went on a vacation in August and noticed she got worse. When they got home her MELD score had gone from 16 in July to 28 in August. They urgently admitted her to the hospital to get her on the transplant list. She was put on the list just after Labour Day.
Sarah is very petite, so they were waiting for a child donor.
“In the meantime we had people step forward that wanted to see if they could do live donations,” Gail says of the incredible generosity they received.
Some people who had never even met Sarah stepped forward wanting to become a live donor.
She says texts, emails and words of encouragement were very much appreciated.
“We had meals brought in, we had gift cards just put in our mailbox, we have no idea who gave them, we had local churches raise money,” Gail said.
Sarah was on the transplant list for nine weeks.
On Oct. 17 they got a call to go to the transplant hospital in London, but that liver was too big for Sarah. But it ended up being a bit of a blessing in disguise because she was able to go to
her high school commencement that week.
They got their second call on Nov. 10 and she had her transplant on Nov. 11. She spent eight weeks in the hospital, and she says she’s felt great since coming home.
“We are incredibly grateful to the family that chose to donate their loved one’s organs. This extraordinary gift gave my daughter an opportunity for a longer and better life. I can’t imagine the sadness and overwhelming grief this family was going through when making this difficult decision. We are so thankful for the team at the Trillium Gift of Life that work with these grieving families and help them to make the decision to donate,” Gail said.
Sarah’s transplant brings her a bit closer to her dad, Paul, who had a kidney transplant 27 years ago when his brother donated a kidney to him. Paul and Sarah’s conditions aren’t related, just a weird coincidence.
Wells has spent the past 12 years helping families and patients through the donor transplant process. But before that, she and Gail became friends at Grand River Hospital where they were both nurses.
“When Gail was texting me that horrible night the end of August saying how sick Sarah was and that she was being placed on the transplant list – I’ve been doing this job for 12 years and truly believe in doing this job – but it was a whole different feeling doing this job when you have a personal connection with someone who desperately needs an organ. As Sarah got sicker and sicker it was really hard,” Wells said.
The need for organ donors is huge, as less than two per cent of the population die in circumstances that allow organ donation. You have to be in the hospital in the ICU on life support to be an organ donor, because once your heart stops beating, the organs quickly die.
Roughly 100,000 people die in Ontario every year. Last year they had a record number of organ donors at 352.
“People will die without organ transplants, absolutely will die. In Ontario every 2.8 days someone dies waiting for an organ transplant,” Wells said.
Wells and Gail encourage families to have these conversations ahead of time and make their wishes known to take the difficult decision off grieving loved ones.
“It truly is the best way to try to honour your loved one’s final wishes. Donor families are amazing, how someone in acute grief can think of someone else,” Wells said.
She notes they have had several organ donors come out of Elmira in the past few years, and it’s possible to create something positive from a devastating situation.
You can check to see if you’re registered at www. BeADonor.ca.
“Sarah is now planning for her future and we are excited that she has had this second chance on life,” Gail said.
Having spent two months in hospital following a liver transplant, Elmira’s Sarah Norcott is now feeling much better and getting to enjoy some time at home with her dog, Stanley. Having seen firsthand the benefits, she’s an advocate for signing up to be an organ donor.