“Life loves the liver of it.”
– Maya Angelou
I was a living liver donor 2 years ago and am still working on the book about it “Deliver Me.” I have met so many true heroes, angel nurses and doctors that it’s hard to keep track. Much of the time, I feel a halo of love and light (covering the painful memories) surrounding this experience. Having met other donors, I’ve been humbled by their tales of sacrifice. Recently I had the honor to meet Karen Stacey. Her story has moved me to write to today.
Karen’s story reads like a nightmarish urban myth. It was hard for Karen to tell this story. Not only is it true and painful but it is also uplifting and hopeful. With her permission…
Many years ago, Karen found herself in the worst situation an expectant mother can be in. At eight months of pregnancy, she lost her baby. Her baby was almost fully grown when the placenta separated from the wall of the uterus. This is a relatively rare occurrence. I only know about it because this happened to a close friend of mine. It’s agonizingly painful, the bleeding is tremendous and the mother, who has just lost her most precious hope, is now losing her blood by the litre. Her baby dead, she must now find the will to live.
Karen was given transfusions to replace what blood she had lost in this tragic series of events. Although her body eventually recovered, the ache that a mother has for her lost baby never really heals, never goes away. Karen, a bright, bustling, energetic and strong woman, picked up the pieces of her broken heart and healed her body. She went on to have two children, work and live her life to the fullest.
Years after that fateful miscarriage, Karen was diagnosed with liver disease. “How could this have happened?” she asked herself. What had she done to get liver disease? When I was going through the tests to be an organ donor, I was asked the same questions over and over again. Did I go to unlicensed tattoo-parlours? Had I ever exchanged sex or sexual favours for money? Had I ever used tainted needles? (no, no and no – in case you’re wondering.) Karen was surely asked all those questions too. It took a while to figure out, but eventually the medical team traced Karen’s illness back to her miscarriage They determined that she had been transfused with bad blood, the same blood which had paradoxically saved her. Karen’s life is in jeopardy now because of a well-meaning blood donor decades prior. That blood was tainted.
“I felt like typhoid Mary,” Karen told me. She panicked, worrying that she had unwittingly infected her husband and children and everybody else in her life. She thought she had given the kiss of death to her nearest and dearest. Thank Goodness that she didn’t and hadn’t.
Karen was given compensation from the government from having received tainted blood. She said “I could have used the money to make myself comfortable and stop working.” She considered that option. Most people would have taken care of themselves. But that was wrong, “That was blood money,” she said.
Suffering from debilitating liver disease, Karen used that blood money to buy an apartment for transplant patients and named it Stacey House. It is across the street from the hospital and belongs to the “Happy Liver Society” which Karen founded. She could simply have bought a house for herself or her children. She could have travelled around the world or hired extra care. But no, she gave that money to the community. Even though it was owed to her and given to her, she *gave it away* to help others. In the full throes of liver disease and dying, Karen was worried about the others who were suffering. Thanks to the Stacey House, patients and their families with limited means have a comfortable home when they come to the city for a transplant.
Karen had been on the transplant list for 4 years, the longest wait to date in BC. Most patients who need transplants die. They slowly die. Whilst waiting for someone else to die.
When I met Karen at the Happy Liver Society’s Spring Fling last month, I nearly fell over when she told me that she had gotten her recycled liver only 8 months before. “That’s amazing!” I gasped in wonderment. As a liver *donor*, I was certainly not up to organizing a big event 8 months post surgery. Organizing a gala takes Energy. (Like a wedding.) “Oh, I hosted an event 9 days after my transplant surgery,” Karen said, smiling with a soupcon of nonchalance.
Needless to say, Karen is a beacon of light. I felt almost silly when *she* presented *me* with a Bill Reid print, “Happy Liver Society Gift of Life Award” for being a living donor. Karen is the working tirelessly, not just at her job and life, but also at making the world a better place for those suffering from sickness and recovering from serious surgery. I salute Karen: her tenacity, her generosity, her sacrifices and indomitable spirit. May her noble purpose and positive energy infect us all.
For more information about the Happy Liver society please click below: