For 10 minutes I was dead. There was no life flashing before my eyes moment, no narrowing tunnel of light, not like in the movies. I was simply told what happened after it had happened. I was told that I had suffered a cardiac arrest and died and that the ambulance officers worked to resuscitate me for 90 minutes.
I’ve never met the heroes who saved my life but I think of them every day. I think of their refusal to give up on me and to be able to act with such composure in a moment where it’s not human to do so, a moment of life and death. They gave me the best birthday present a girl could wish for. Life. Did I mention this all happened on my 32nd birthday?
That same year I was gifted life for a second time when I took the call. A call that, at any given time, 1400 other Australians are waiting for. After seven years on the organ transplant waiting list, I discovered that the wait was over—that someone’s dying wish was to donate their organs, which, for me, meant a ‘new’ kidney and pancreas, and a shot at living a longer life. I sobbed.
I don’t know who that person was and I don’t know their family. That feels absurd. I call them my Beautiful Donor Family. I live my life with that family in the forefront of my thoughts. I want to make them proud, I owe them that.
I had teetered on the edge of life for as long as I can remember and placed it in the hands of the medical profession on too many occasions. I was diagnosed as a Type One diabetic at three. At some point, and it hurts to admit this, I stopped living for me and fought on for the people around me who cared. But the transplant changed all of that, it gave me some control and hope, it gave me a shot.
I live with purpose and perspective now. Suddenly, money and career progression don’t seem so important. I used to work around the clock as a lawyer trying to climb the ladder. Relationships suffered, my health suffered, I suffered. How do we create a life where our priorities become so skewed?
Please don’t read this as a lack of ambition; I’ve just revised what ambition means to me. I’m ambitious about my family and my fiancée, I’m ambitious about how much I can squeeze out of life and I’m ambitious about inspiring discussion around organ donation—a topic that seems to scare people, that is somehow taboo in our culture.
Next month I compete at Miss Inked Beauty Australia. Not something I would usually have put my hand up for but when you’ve beaten death, why not? My body will be decorated with a new tattoo. An illustration of a fallen angel looking to the stars with the word “blessed” inscribed underneath. That’s for my Beautiful Donor Family.
When I think of courage, I think of that family plunged into the depths of grief, having just experienced the death of one of their own. And in that moment of pain and despair, being able to sanction their loved ones’ wishes to donate their organs. To give the gift of life. That’s courage.
This week is Donate Life Week and I want to set you a challenge. I would like you to watch the Dying to Live trailer and have a conversation with someone about organ donation today. It’s a topic that’s full of richness and provokes so many interesting reactions in people.
What I observe too often is a fear to engage in some of life’s stickier topics. I watch on as people offer up valid opinions on race, gender, sexuality or parenting, and are shot down by anonymous onlookers. We need to have these conversations, they can save lives. They saved mine