Susan Harrison learned shortly after her 40th birthday that she would one day need a new liver.
Harrison had just been diagnosed with an auto-immune liver disease.
“Just a fluky thing that affects mostly women, it’s a rare disease. It just came right out of the blue,” said the busy, working mother of two girls.
Before her diagnosis, Harrison had felt itchy all over her body and tired all the time. Her doctor ordered blood tests and called her the next day to tell her something was wrong.
“It was such a huge shock to my husband and I. I’d always been completely healthy. I was a runner, just never really did anything bad to my body,” said Harrison.
Harrison had to stop working right after her diagnosis and she had to stop running, as well.
Her disease progressed slowly over a seven-year period and her doctor told her that once she had about one year left to live, they would put her on the transplant list, which they thought was a big enough window to find a new liver.
However, Harrison’s body just crashed.
“Once my liver numbers reached when they thought I had a year, they just kept climbing and, in the end, I was on life-support when I received this gift. They really didn’t think I was going to make it,” said Harrison, who was preparing herself to say goodbye to her daughters and husband.
Then, at the last minute, a donor was found that was her same blood type.
But doctors told her family they would have to call someone else in to receive the liver unless they could stabilize her.
Doctors did and that was 17 years ago.
“So I am so lucky. It was my dream to run again,” said Harrison, who ran in the Transplant Games at UBC this past summer and won a medal.
Around three or four years ago, her donor’s parents reached out to her and they have been writing each other letters since.
They sent her a photograph of her donor, who had died in a tragic accident at the age of 40.
The donor’s mother asked a good friend to attend the games to cheer Harrison on.
“It was just an indescribable experience to meet this beautiful friend of his,” said Harrison.
“I had just finished my race. It was five minutes after the finish line and I was wearing the medal. I took the medal off and gave it to her and said please pass this on to his wife,” she explained, saying how grateful she was to be able to thank her in such a way.
“It meant the world to me,” said Harrison.
On Monday, Harrison, along with fellow transplant recipients Darcy Murdoch, who received a double-lung transplant, and Joanna Arcardo, who also received a liver, paid a visit to Ridge Meadows Hospital on behalf of the B.C. Transplant Society to say thanks to staff in the emergency room, operating room and the intensive care units at the hospital for the work that they do.
The trio handed out individually wrapped popcorn bundles from Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory to staff in the emergency and operating rooms and the intensive care unit at the hospital during an event called Operation Popcorn, held at hospitals across the province.
“First of all, they take care of us in ER, in OR, in ICU and they keep us alive. Nobody gets this gift unless they are dying. The nurses and doctors, they keep us alive,” said Harrison.
“But not only that, more importantly, what they do is they take good care of our donors and they recognize potential donors and they are the first contact families have to consider donation,” she added.
Harrison’s gift was not only life, but she was able to finish raising her daughters, who are 33 and 39 now.
She has been married to her husband for 45 years and they have six grandchildren.
“So having that opportunity to walk through their doors healthy and strong and say thank you to them for what they did, it’s just incredible,” Harrison said.
“It’s just a small token,” added Harrison of the popcorn.
“It really is just a symbol of our thanks because how can we really thank them, except maybe by showing them what they have done for us.”