Sigrid Ladores, PhD, RN, PNP, CNE, is an associate professor at the UAB School of Nursing and Co-director of the School’s Nursing Honors Program. Her husband, Andrew Ladores, was born with cystic fibrosis (CF) and required a lung transplant, which he received in 2011. In recognition of National Donate Life Month, Ladores wrote an open letter to the family of her husband’s lung donor.
This is an open letter to the family who unselfishly gave our family the ultimate gift — the gift of life.
Dear Family of my Husband’s Organ Donor:
Our family will be forever indebted to your family’s decision to donate your son’s organs to save several people’s lives. One of those lives saved is that of my husband, Andrew. Andrew was dying in front of me for most of 2011 from a genetic disease that has no cure. Andrew was born with cystic fibrosis (CF) and is a living testament to how organ donation saves lives and makes futures possible.
Following standard post-transplant procedure, one year after Andrew received his pair of pink lungs on September 21, 2011, he wrote a letter to your family and passed it along to our transplant nurse coordinator to share his deep appreciation and acknowledge your immense loss. We were not told much about Andrew’s donor except that he was male and lived in Florida. We are not certain you received that letter, but this is our second chance to say THANK YOU and share with you what your gift has allowed Andrew and our family to do.
You may or may not know that CF is the most common genetic disease among Caucasians and affects approximately 70,000 people worldwide. Thankfully, due to advances in science and clinical care, people with CF are now living into their 40s and 50s. When Andrew was born, he was not expected to live to see his first birthday, however, he defies the odds every day and recently celebrated his 46th birthday. He would not have been able to blow out his birthday candles without your son’s gift of life. CF affects the whole body but primarily destroys the lungs, and the most common complications and causes of death for people with CF are lung infections and respiratory failure.
Approximately 22 people die every day while waiting for transplant, and one person is added to the transplant list every 10 minutes. Andrew was going to be one of those statistics, but he was saved by your son. His lung function was in the single digits (healthy people see function in the 90s to 100). He was hooked up to an oxygen tank 24/7 and had difficulty doing basic things that we all take for granted, such as eating, showering and brushing his teeth because these activities caused him to be out of breath and lose consciousness.
On September 19, 2011, Andrew was in the intensive care unit about to be intubated. When our CF team came to tell us that there may be lungs that were a match for Andrew, we felt a mix of emotions: Relief that we were getting our prayers answered after being on the transplant list for 7 months and highly anxious because we knew that surgery would be complicated and the recovery arduous.
After 10 hours on the operating table, Andrew was wheeled into the ICU and I immediately noticed his pink color. As his wife of 12 years at that time (currently going into our 20th year), I have seen him go through the ups and downs of living with CF, and I just knew in that moment that he would be OK. As an advanced practice nurse, I quickly scanned his vital signs and realized that his numbers were probably better than mine due to my anxiety and sleep deprivation. His lungs were so good, in fact, that his transplant surgeon said that they slid perfectly into place in Andrew’s open chest “as if they were made for him” (his exact words). His recovery was pristine and the staff and patients he met at the physical therapy department nicknamed him “Superman” because of his amazing resolve and dedication to get stronger every day. Ten days after transplant, Andrew was running on the treadmill, and at Day 16 he was discharged home.
Waiting for him at home was our 3-year old son who saw his dad without the oxygen tube in his nose and asked if this meant that daddy can run around the house to chase him again. This child of ours was perceptive beyond his years, and Andrew and I choked back our tears as we answered him: “Yes, daddy can run again,” knowing that we now have a chance to create more memories as a family.
As we look forward to celebrating his 8th “breath-day” or “lungs-aversary” this September, we want to share other milestones with you to let you know that we honor the gift you gave us. Here are just a few of the things that Andrew has accomplished since his lung transplant:
- He finished law school (and was inducted into Law Review) and currently practices law.
- He became a dad again for the second time 3 years ago.
- He volunteered as a high school basketball coach and ran around with kids playing the sport he loved.
- He recovered well from eight post-transplant surgeries because of his strong lungs.
- He traveled the world with our family (with safety measures in place, of course, to protect his lungs and overall immune system).
None of these would be possible without the gift of life that you and your son gave him.
In honor of National Donate Life Month, our family thanks your family from the very bottom of our hearts. And for everyone reading this letter, please consider being a donor if you aren’t one already. While 95 percent of Americans are in favor of donation, only 58 percent are registered donors. Go to http://www.donatelife.net to register (it’s easy!) and make sure you let your loved ones know your preferences so they can be assured they are making the right decision by following your desire to save other people’s lives.