Imagine you went to the doctor and were told you had a life-threatening lung disease.
Imagine your doctor said you didn’t have long to live if you didn’t get a lung transplant.
Imagine your insurance company refused to pay for this lung transplant and you would be looking at hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical expenses even if you could get one.
Imagine that everywhere you turned you faced more mountains to climb.
Imagine that every day it got harder for you to breathe and harder to function.
Imagine that you were afraid to get in the car for fear you would run out of oxygen.
My dear friend and longtime client Allan O’Brien not only imagined all of this, but for the last almost six years, he lived this reality every day. He has fought the most difficult battle anyone can face– the battle for his life. This battle is one that many of us would have either given up on or been beaten down by. Just hearing about his constant battle was exhausting and I couldn’t imagine how difficult this was for Allan.
I remember the first time Allan and his amazing wife Bonnie told me about his health condition. To hear them both discuss it, you would think that Allan merely had manageable asthma. The both took on the most positive outlook I have ever witnessed in my life. Throughout their battle they always believed that Allan would get a lung transplant. They also ALWAYS remained calm, strong and FIRM about their belief that one day he would be the recipient of the greatest gift of all … the gift of life.
When I got to know more about Allan’s medical condition and the importance of his getting a lung transplant, I understood better the importance of becoming an organ donor and giving the gift of life in the event that my life ended. That was something that I had not previously given a lot of thought to previously, but after watching Allan struggle for one year, then two, three, and then more, I realized how important this gift could be. And I remember how many times I would pray that he would get his gift.
Eventually winning his fight with the insurance companies to finally hear that indeed he would be put on the transplant list was only the first part of the battle. Once on the list, the waiting game began. Finally! Allan received the call that they had a donor! But that turned out to be a false alarm. And then again! But this turned into a false alarm as well.
Allan was getting weaker and could hardly speak anymore. He could hardly walk five feet. Allan was an avid reader and writer, but his illness had made it impossible for him to read or write anymore. An incredible loss for a man who so treasured the written word.
Time was running out and hospice was notified. When you hear Bonnie talk about the day they came to their home it makes you want to smile and cry at the same time. She proudly stated, “I wouldn’t let them in!” When I expressed surprise and asked her why, she quickly replied, “No one else was going to take care of him. I take care of him”. My throat tightened and I fought back the tears as I witnessed a woman’s love for her dying husband. The lifelong love affair Allan and Bonnie have had is something you see in the movies and I can’t express how touching it was to hear this story.
Allan told me that the day he received THE CALL he only had days left to live.
Bonnie was at home when the phone rang. She almost didn’t answer the phone as the number was not listed, but because she was curious, she answered it. And this call changed her life.
“We believe we have the perfect lung for Allan and we need you to come to the University of Washington hospital right now.” Bonnie was in a state of shock and rushed to pack for the visit. Allan was exhausted, but went hoping that this would not be another false alarm.
This was no false alarm. That very day Allan received his lung transplant.
Not only did his life change, but others’ lives changed as well. The person who gave the incredible gift of life to Allan had also given that gift to at least two others at the UW Medical Center through their donation of multiple organs. At least three people were given life as one life ended. Four families’ lives were changed forever.
I used to get squeamish thinking about organ donation, but have been able to see how organ donation has changed the lives of families both receiving and giving organs. A very dear family friend lost her life four years ago, and I remember being with her son when the doctors told him that his mother had passed away. The doctors suggested that she help others live through organ and tissue donation. Although this was a tough decision for someone in their early 20s, he bravely decided to give the gift of life on behalf of his mother. This gift also changed the lives of four families forever and today he is comforted knowing that his mother’s gift gave life to others.
Imagine that you had a dear friend or loved one that was diagnosed with a life-threatening disease that could only be cured with a transplant. Imagine hoping that someone would give the gift of life and save them. Imagine if one day you would be able to visit your friend or loved one and hear them talk again or see them smile again. I did. And last week I had the honor of being able to see my dear friend Allan speak again … smile again… and live again!
Some may call it a miracle. Some may say it is luck. I say it is the power that each of us have within us to make things happen in our life. It is the power we have to fight against all odds and win. It is the power to shape our own future by choosing to believe that we will survive and we will thrive.
Despite all the odds against Allan, both he and Bonnie never stopped believing that he would get well.
And while Allan’s story has a very happy ending I would ask everyone to take a second look at the gift of life that each of us has the power to give should we ever be in the position to give it. Allan and Bonnie changed my perspective and they changed my life. Their positive attitude and pure thirst for life is both enviable and uplifting.
When I went to see Allan in the hospital I asked him what he was craving. He laughed and told me he was craving lemon meringue pie. Oh, how his laugh warmed my heart! When I see Allan again this week I plan on taking him the biggest lemon meringue pie I can find. I personally plan on celebrating his life and giving thanks to the family that so generously made the gift of life possible for Allan and Bonnie.
Thank you, Allan for showing me how much power the human spirit has.
Thank you, Bonnie for showing me what true, selfless love looks like.
Here’s a toast to your new life together!
And if you are wondering how Bonnie is doing … well, when I asked her how much sleep she was getting she admitted not much. She wakes up at four in the morning every day and hurries to Allan’s side to care for him. And they are both talking up a storm. Oh, how much they have to catch up on!
This Zebra Report is dedicated to my dear friends Allan and Bonnie O’Brien.