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

The Woolwich Observer - - LIVING HERE - WHIT­NEY NEIL­SON

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.

[WHIT­NEY NEIL­SON / THE OB­SERVER]

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.

Sarah Nor­cott

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