Media pager: Who really deserves compassion

As part of my job, I’m on a rotating media pager schedule. Essentially, we’re on call after hours for any media inquiries that come in during the weeks its our turn. It’s a common practice for many communications department both private and public sector. In a world where we crave – and are used to – information anytime, anywhere, being accessible and available is crucial, especially during emergencies.

As important as it is, media pager duty can be a drag – I don’t sleep well for fear of snoozing through a call; I plan my time around “what ifs” and I can’t go far from the city, just in case.

It sucks even more when there’s a major incident like the bus crash tonight and every media outlet in western Canada calls at three-minute intervals for, literally, hours on end.

I was feeling sorry for myself and nursing my adrenaline hangover when I thought about what is really sad about situations like these: families who are on the other end of the phone getting the news their loved one was in an accident or the first responders who put everything they have into saving someone but can’t, or the hospital staff who inevitably work overtime and miss their family events, birthdays and holidays to make sure every patient coming in is taken care of in a way they’d expect.

So, after hours of fielding calls, chasing down outlets to correct misinformation and repeating updates for what felt like the 1,000th time, I sit here feeling pretty grateful.

Thanks to all of the people involved in the rescue, transport and care of the patients tonight and during every incident. It’s an inspiring reminder of why the work we do is so important.

Ok, now someone please pass me a glass of wine.

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An open letter to organ donor families

Dear Donor Family,

I am writing to you during the most difficult and darkest time in your life. I’m truly sorry you’re going through this. Please know that my heart is breaking for you.

You may already be coming to the realization that the end is inevitable, or perhaps you are at the beginning stages of the life-changing tragedy that will ultimately lead you to a decision that you will need to make – the choice to donate your loved one’s organs and tissues.

I know how hopeless this situation feels. The frustration that nothing more can be done; the fear of continuing life without your loved one; and the grief that may already be setting in are overwhelming. I know this, because I experienced it firsthand.

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My name is Alyshia and I am a donor family member. My Dad, Malcolm Higgins, was in a single-vehicle car accident in 2010 and sustained a critical brain injury. His eldest child at 24 years old at the time, I was appointed his substitute decision maker. The moment I received the phone call that he’d been in an accident, I knew my life would change forever.

When my three younger siblings and I learned my Dad would never awake from his injury, we chose to withdraw life support. He was six months shy of his 50th birthday.

I remember the day so vividly: the fear, the heartbreak and the devastation were almost too much to bear. I also remember another feeling: comfort. My Dad met the criteria for organ donation. We were fortunate that our father had been very vocal about his wishes – should he ever be eligible to donate, he wanted to do so.

Through his gift, one man received a double-lung transplant; two men each received a kidney, freeing them from the rigorous routine of dialysis; and two more received the gift of sight through his corneas.

In our darkest moments, the thought that something positive could come out of our heartbreaking tragedy provided immeasurable comfort. While our family was getting the worst news of our lives, five other families were getting the best phone call of theirs – their loved ones were getting a second chance.

You may be surprised to know that today, right this minute, there are nearly 500 people waiting for a life-saving organ transplant in British Columbia alone and over 4,500 nationwide. To so many of us, this number is not just a statistic; it represents our friends, siblings, cousins, children, and parents who are all desperately waiting for the gift of life.

For a young BC recipient, Addison, that phone call came just in time. Born with a heart condition in 2011, her parents learned when she was weeks old that she would need a transplant – and soon.

The call for them came on Mother’s Day. In the midst of losing their own child, another family selflessly chose to save her parents from going through the same heartbreak. Today, this beautiful little girl is nearly four years old and living a happy, healthy normal life. You can read more about her journey here.

There are no words to describe parents who lose their children because it’s just not supposed to happen. Tragically, it does and all too often.

My Dad’s father – my grandfather – experienced this. He was devastated to outlive one of his children, but was immensely proud of the legacy his only son was leaving behind.

I can’t even begin to imagine the pain, the anger and the heartbreak of losing a child because I am not a mother. What I can tell you is how it feels to have a family member who is a hero.

When we were told my Dad’s grave prognosis, I desperately wanted to do something – anything – to make him better, but the reality was he could no longer be helped. It broke my heart to think of all of the things he was going to miss out on.

He won’t be there to walk me down the aisle at my wedding and I will never have a memory of him beaming with pride and kissing me on the cheek as his little girl one last time. He’ll miss the grandchildren my siblings and I will eventually have and there will never be another Christmas where we’ll sit down as a family, reminisce about years gone by and make new traditions. Our memories are now all we have – and the knowledge that my Dad has given a future to others.

For three families whose fathers, brothers, husbands and friends were saved through his selflessness, they will have these things for many years to come. In fact, I know through correspondence with my Dad’s double-lung recipient that he was able to proudly walk his daughter down the aisle without an oxygen tank in tow and visited his family out west for the first time in 10 years. He can bounce his grandkids on his knees, travel with his wife and walk up the stairs in his home without gasping for air. (By complete flook, my sister and I met him at an organ donation event – he’s such a lovely man.)

An Enviable Legacy - My Dad's Story of Donation

Making the choice to donate is not a difficult one, but one made during the most difficult of times and I know this firsthand. Donating your loved one’s organs and tissues will never take away the pain of losing them, but it can provide you with some solace in your time of overwhelming grief.

One single donor can potentially save up to eight lives through organ donation. Imagine sparing other families from losing their loved ones, allowing them to see another birthday, another Christmas, even just another day.

For those waiting, time is running out. Without transplants, the people on the wait list will inevitably die.

I respectfully ask that in your time of grief, you consider the life-changing and life-saving gift organ and tissue donation can have.  

Your choice will not only impact the immediate future of your loved one’s recipients, but will create an eternal legacy.

My dad always used to say his four kids would amount to greater things than he could, but I beg to differ. There is no greater gift you can give someone than life itself and he achieved that three-fold.

The man whose gift saved three lives and gave sight to two more; the man whose story has been shared in three countries and the man whose donation inspired his four children and countless others was my father and for that, I couldn’t be more proud.

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Please, register your consent, talk to your family and speak to your loved one’s health-care team. The decision you make will change lives forever – including your own.

With sincere gratitude,

A Proud Donor Daughter