Stephanie L. McMackin

"Not a day that goes by that I don't think of my donor family."

Imagine knowing that you don't have long to live and sometimes crying at night because you fear that you will be leaving the love of your life and that you will not live long enough to see all the things a mother wants for her 15 and 17-year-old children: graduation, marriage and perhaps grandchildren. And then imagine getting a telephone call at 2:00 in the afternoon telling you that you need to get to the hospital right away because some other mother's 15-year-old child has died and she is giving you the greatest gift you will ever receive: her child's liver.

That is what happened to me 13 years ago, right around Mother's Day 1990. I had been suffering with liver disease for 20 years. Twenty years of yellow jaundice so severe that my skin and eyes were yellowish-green; oozing sores all over my arms and legs; itching so badly not even sleep would make it stop; three life-saving operations leaving me with external tubes requiring irrigation every day. All this while waiting until transplantation was no longer considered to be experimental. And then the telephone call came that changed my life and the lives of my family forever. After a frantic ride to UCLA and hours of prepping me for surgery, I remember saying goodbye to my loved ones just before they wheeled me into the operating room. I remember praying that I would survive the surgery and then marveling after waking up eight hours later that not only did I survive, but I was pink, not yellow! And I didn't itch!

Since that day, I have been blessed to see my wonderful husband retire, both my children graduate from high school, one graduate from college and get married, and I am anxiously awaiting my son's marriage next April. I've had the privilege to participate in four U.S. Transplant Games all over the United States where my family and I celebrated the gift of life with other organ transplant recipients and donor families.

Not a day that goes by that I don't think of my donor family and how much I love them for being able to look beyond their terrible grief to help me and others live. I hope they received the letter I wrote to them before I left the hospital all those years ago. Every Mother's Day, I think of another mother who is missing her child. I don't know her name or the name of the other members of my donor family. But if I did, I would tell them that I am taking very good care of their daughter and that I thank them from the bottom of my heart for blessing me with their most unselfish gift of life.