Yesterday was the 4-year anniversary of Annika's first transplant. This was the transplant from a deceased donor, a teen-ager from somewhere in Chicagoland. I've written the family 3 times, always passing the letter through Gift of Hope
in order to maintain their anonymity. I've never heard back from them, but I'm not sure what I would expect to hear from them. I think I owe it to that family to let them know that their gift was important to us, that it has meant the life of our little girl. They certainly don't owe us any response in return. I hope that they would tell us, though, if my letters to them are just a painful reminder that they would rather not have.
Those letters are never easy to write. I wrote the first letter to them on a yellow legal pad while Annika was still in the PICU post-transplant. It took her quite a while to get off the ventilator (about 2 weeks), and there was plenty of time to sit in the quiet room and contemplate my own feelings about the transplant and their loss. But, still, my pen dragged heavily across the paper as I struggled to put into words the simultaneous gratitude and sorrow of that moment.
The second letter was written after Anni lost her first transplant to a clot in her hepatic artery. I wanted to make sure that they understood that their child had still saved Annika's life, and that Annika was still using the portal vein donated by their child to attach the piece of liver donated by my cousin. So, in the most literal way possible, she still carried a piece of their child within her.
The third letter was written after Annika's bout with PTLD
. This letter was hard to write because we had again come face-to-face with the possibility of losing our child. I can still transport myself back in an instant to that scene of Dr. Whitington entering Anni's hospital room and saying, "Well, it doesn't look good." With every brush up against that unimaginable pain of losing a child, it's harder to know what to say to those on the other side of the gulf.
And now another letter is due, but carrying the news that Annika's portal vein has clotted and is soon to be replaced during the upcoming shunt surgery. It is the last remaining physical link to their child. I hope this year I find the words to make it clear that their child's link to us and our daughter goes beyond the sharing of flesh and into the realm of smiles and laughter and memories bestowed because of their generosity. It's a connection more emotional, more spiritual, and more long-lasting than can be measured in years of graft