It has been a Christmas season like no other for two Calgary families. They celebrated joy but also experienced heartbreak this year, as a life saved meant the loss of another.
The two Calgary mothers were strangers before this year but have now become inseparable — and are now sharing their stories in hopes of encouraging others to be organ donors.
Jessica and Maddy’s Story
Jessica Moran’s 9-year-old daughter Maddy was diagnosed with end-stage kidney disease three years ago. Doctors told her family she would require a kidney transplant. As Maddy waited for a living donor transplant, she was placed on dialysis. The constant monitoring meant Maddy was limited in what she could do, including outdoor field trips with her class.
Jessica was not a match as the two were not the same blood type.
“(That was) pretty devastating to me. I really did want to donate my organ to her,” she said.
Two years went by and after several failed attempts, Maddy was put on the deceased donor list, in hopes of accelerating the process.
“So towards the end of the dialysis, you know, (it was) not really working out so great with dialysis… and we made the decision that it was time to look for a deceased donor,” Jessica said.
“I was hopeful that she would receive a transplant before things started getting a little bit out of control… Trying to recover during a pandemic is definitely scary. You’re always worried about immunosuppression, if you’re gonna get sick.”
Jessica received a phone call in September from the Alberta Children’s Hospital and she instantly knew Maddy’s life would be changed forever.
“I knew at that moment that this was going to be third time’s the charm. This is it… I really was thinking about the family. And I was just so thankful that they made the decision to donate their loved ones organs,” she said.
Barbara and John’s Story
It was an early morning in August, when Barbara Rae received a phone call. She said she still remembers the day vividly.
“My son had driven out with a girlfriend to Nelson B.C. on August 22… He was in a very bad accident, where he was flown from Nelson to Kelowna. We received a phone call early, (in the) early mornings of the 23rd. We traveled to Kelowna to be where we met the doctors in ICU there,” she recalled.
“We were told that it was 97 per cent chance that Johnny wouldn’t make it with the head injury that he had received. So for two weeks, he laid in a coma. We were there for him until Sept. 5 at 14:14, and he was declared brain dead.”
Like his mother, John had signed up to be an organ donor. In death, he gave others life.
“I signed my donors card in 1982. So this has always been something that’s very near and dear to my heart, and just because Johnny couldn’t live, doesn’t mean that other people wouldn’t benefit from his organs, she said.
“Johnny was able to donate his heart, his liver and his two kidneys, and he saved four people’s lives.”
By pure luck, a Facebook post sharing the news that Maddy would receive that life-saving transplant somehow made its way to Barbara.
And while Alberta Health Services would not confirm to the two mothers if John’s organs were transplanted to Maddy due to privacy concerns, Barbara and Jessica said they already knew.
“(On Facebook), someone commented, and they said that their friend had passed away around the same date. And I thought, wouldn’t that be crazy? So I reached out to this girl that commented, and through a couple of different people ended up finding Barb,” Jessica said.
“We connected on text and we just became instant family — like we had known each other our whole lives. It was just so surreal that the power of social media brought us together. It was just a really great experience.”
The two compared the blood types, the dates and the time and said they knew they were connected. “There’s no other way, that it couldn’t be.”
Once strangers, the two now share an unbreakable bond.
“I know for a fact that my son blood runs through her because his blood was in that kidney when it went into her. It makes me feel good because Johnny’s in there,” Barbara said.
“(Maddy) is so great to be around and just has been nothing but loving and warm to me and understands every once in a while, when I break down, (it’s) because it’s hard. But now Maddie has a chance to have a good quality life.
“I can’t express how grateful I am. I tell her all the time. We talk very regularly so she knows how I feel about it…. you’d never really necessarily get to meet the other side. So for us to be able to come together and share our experience has been really great,” Jessica said.
“If they could just make the decision to donate their organs next time, (if you’re driving) by the registry or go in, just check it off. Make sure you talk to everybody that you know and have a discussion, and talk about why it’s important.
“You can change somebody’s life, and definitely, Maddie is one of those people.”