SASKATOON – If you’re waiting to sign an organ donation card, imagine waiting on the other side of that list. Ten years ago, that was Shelly Nicholas, living with cystic fibrosis.
“I got the call Oct. 5, 2006 at three in the morning. I was very sick at the time, I was on IV therapy, and I actually thought it was my alarm to start my IV. I picked up the phone, I didn’t say anything, but on the end I heard ‘Hi Shelly, it’s transplant phoning … we have a set of lungs.’”
Nicholas underwent a double-lung transplant at the University of Alberta Hospital. She’s never found out who her donor was, though she has a special feeling about her anonymous angel.
“I think it was a young person and I’m so grateful that the family decided to donate because obviously I wouldn’t be here if they hadn’t.”
This October will be ten years for Nicholas. The surgery has allowed her to be an active family member and a mom to her children, who are now 12 and 17.
“The best moment I can remember is we always play tag a lot. We were at the lake and they tagged me not thinking that I was going to run and chase after them. But I did, and that was a good feeling.”
Nicholas is using her own experience to be a mentor to others going through the same thing. She has connected with Jillian Langen, a young Saskatoon woman whose story is similar to hers. Jillian is recovering from double lung transplant surgery seven weeks ago — the two even share a doctor, Justin Weinkauf.
“What I’m grateful for is that a lot of these patients are able to educate each other, probably better than I could educate them because they’ve gone through it, and I haven’t,” said Weinkauf, who is from Saskatoon.
For every donor, eight people can be saved, and with every deep breath in, Nichols is reminded that organ donation didn’t just give her a second set of lungs; it gave her a second shot at life.
“The nurse said to me, and I’ll never forget, she just said ‘they’re your lungs now. That’s your blood pumping through those lungs, and those are the lungs you’re meant to have.’”
Both Nicholas and Langen will be at the Spring Fling Fundraiser for cystic fibrosis and organ donor awareness on April 22 at the Forestry Farm.